Mobile World Congress (MWC), the world’s largest telecoms conference, has been cancelled in light of the Covid-19 epidemic.
The spread of the new form of coronavirus has already hampered the Chinese economy and upset global commodities markets, particularly oil and copper prices.
Late last week major names such as LG and Ericsson pulled out of the event, with the Swedish firm stating: “As one of the largest exhibitors, Ericsson has thousands of visitors in its hall each day and even if the risk is low, the company cannot guarantee the health and safety of its employees and visitors.”
By Wednesday morning this trickle of dropouts had turned into a torrent with Vodafone, BT, AT&T Sprint, Facebook, Intel, Sony, Amazon, Nokia, Cisco and Deutsche Telekom all pulling out of the conference.
The CEO of Orange Stéphane Richard announced that his company would not be attending MWC, despite Richard also serving as the chairman of GSMA the industry body organising the conference.
Eventually GSMA, the industry group organising MWC cancelled the event for the first time in its 33-year history. The group’s CEO John Hoffman stated: “With due regard to the safe and healthy environment in Barcelona and the host country today, the GSMA has cancelled MWC Barcelona 2020 because the global concern regarding the coronavirus outbreak, travel concern and other circumstances, make it impossible for the GSMA to hold the event.”
A recent report from Wired indicated that GSMA had previously asked the authorities in Barcelona to declare a health emergency so that it could cancel the event. It suggested that the body’s insurance policies would not cover their losses if they simply cancelled the event, instead of being required to do so by the government.
Hopes earlier this week that the epidemic had peaked have now been dashed by recent data. On Wednesday, February 12, the number of cases in the Chinese province of Hubei skyrocketed by almost 15,000, from 33,366 to 48,206.
Such a stark increase has increased suspicion that the Chinese government has been suppressing the official scale of the epidemic. With the death toll now topping 1,350 across the country, President Xi Jinping has intensified his approach, sacking two senior officials in the Hubei government following the latest revelation.