The coronavirus outbreak is shaking up the tech world, leading to factory and store shutdowns all over China. This could mean we'll see some production shortages, but fears of the virus spread also have more tangible effects. Many companies have decided to withdraw from or limit their availability at MWC 2020, slated to begin February 24. To hinder contamination, the fair organizer GSMA has put a vast number of actions in motion to keep attendees as safe as possible.
The GSMA is actively trying to reduce panic and has published statements on how it plans to carry out the show amidst the viral spread. It outright forbids any travelers from the Hubei province access to the event, while anyone who has been to China in recent days must demonstrate proof that they have been outside the country for at least 14 days prior to MWC (meaning that Chinese attendees must've left the country on February 10 to be allowed in). Additionally, the GSMA will conduct temperature screenings on anyone who enters the fair and will ask people to self-certify that they have not been in contact with anyone infected.
Further measures include increased cleaning and disinfection across MWC, more medical personnel, microphone disinfection protocols between speakers, and the advice to adopt a "no-handshake policy."
The GSMA is firm to reassure it's "moving ahead as planned and will host MWC Barcelona 24-27 February 2020." The organization points to statements from Catalonia's Secretary of Public Health, Joan Guix, who says that the region is not a risk zone: "The Catalan health system is prepared to detect and treat coronavirus, to give the most appropriate response, and this must be clear to those attending MWC Barcelona." You can find an FAQ on the coronavirus on the MWC website.
Update: The GSMA will conduct a meeting on Friday to decide whether or not it's going to cancel MWC.
Companies that have withdrawn completely
While some companies have decided to attend in a limited capacity, a few have wholly canceled their MWC presence.
In a statement to TechCrunch, Amazon has shared that "due to the outbreak and continued concerns about novel coronavirus, Amazon will withdraw from exhibiting and participating in Mobile World Congress 2020, scheduled for Feb. 24-27 in Barcelona, Spain."
AT&T Business's CEO Anne Chow was supposed to deliver a speech at MWC, but now the carrier has informed CNET's Elli Blumenthal that "after careful discussions and planning, we have decided that we will not participate in GSMA Mobile World Congress Barcelona 2020." The company acknowledges the steps the MWC organizers have taken to contain possible infections, but it wants to ensure the safety of its employees and customers.
AT&T statement notes and respect steps @GSMA has taken to protect against coronavirus, but says that "the most responsible decision is to withdraw our participation from the event to safeguard our employees and customers." pic.twitter.com/kM3i4ntDMU
— Eli Blumenthal (@eliblumenthal) February 11, 2020
Former Swedish Sony Mobile partner Ericsson has announced that it will withdraw from MWC as it has assessed that it "cannot guarantee the health and safety of its employees and visitors." Instead, the company will "take the demos and content created for MWC Barcelona to customers in their home markets with local events called 'Ericsson Unboxed.'"
Facebook has told CNET in a statement that it will not be in Barcelona this year. A spokesperson said, "Out of an abundance of caution, Facebook employees won't be attending this year's Mobile World Congress due to the evolving public health risks related to coronavirus."
Intel has confirmed to Venturebeat that it's dropping out of MWC. A spokesperson states that "The safety and wellbeing of all our employees and partners is our top priority, and we have withdrawn from this year’s Mobile World Congress out of an abundance of caution." Venturebeat says the company will still make a product announcement during the show, but it won't send any employees to it.
Just like the other companies, LG cites "the safety of its employees, partners, and customers" as the reason why it has pulled out of MWC. It plans to hold separate events in the future to showcase its 2020 mobile products.
This one must hurt quite a bit: Chip manufacturer and Qualcomm competitor MediaTek has announced that it won't attend MWC, either. The company told The Register that it has decided to withdraw "after careful assessment" and plans to present its upcoming products later, but it still hasn't shared when and how.
Nokia and HMD
After careful assessment, Nokia has also elected to stay away from MWC this year. In order to make up for its absence, it states that it plans "to go directly to customers with a series of “Nokia Live” events aimed at showcasing the industry-leading demos and launches scheduled for MWC."
The same is true for HMD, the company behind Nokia-branded phones that originally planned some announcements for the show. After its withdrawal, it says that "we will update the media, our partners, and customers on a new timeline for our product announcements."
MWC sponsor Nvidia has publicized a statement that it has informed GSMA "that we won’t be sending our employees to this year’s event."
Germany's Telekom CEO Tim Hoettges has announced that the carrier wouldn't join the MWC this year on LinkedIn. Large gatherings would be risky at this time, so the company has decided to stay away from the event.
Sony has reached out to us to tell us that it has "taken the difficult decision to withdraw from exhibiting and participating at MWC 2020 in Barcelona, Spain." However, it makes clear that it will still go ahead with its February 24 MWC press conference in the form of a livestream on its YouTube channel, so there's that.
Sprint is also pulling out of the MWC, according to Light Reading. The carrier said, "Our team will not be attending MWC due to concerns around the novel coronavirus."
Vivo is first Chinese brand that has decided to fully withdraw from the exhibition. In a statement shared with us, the company has confirmed that this will delay the introduction of its Apex 2020 concept phone, which it originally wanted to show during MWC. Vivo says it'll still showcase the device "soon" and will share more updates later.
The second largest mobile carrier in the world, Vodafone, has joined the MWC withdrawal crowd. It told Reuters: "Vodafone has been carefully monitoring the news on the coronavirus and has noted the recent warnings from the World Health Organization. After careful consideration, we have decided to withdraw from this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona."
Companies that plan on limiting their presence
In order to limit the potential spread of the new virus, many companies have decided to scale back their presence and have implemented hygiene policies.
Samsung itself hasn't confirmed that it wants to scale back its attendance, but according to CNET sources, the company plans to reduce the number of people it sends to Barcelona, particularly executives. Many employees are also supposedly canceling their trips.
TCL is the latest company to partially withdraw from MWC, canceling its February 22 global press event. The company says that "this decision does not impact any other MWC 2020 activities planned by the company and TCL will still announce its latest mobile devices and showcase them at its booth."
Xiaomi has shared that it's attending MWC 2020 as planned, but it has taken a few measures to ensure the safety of everyone at the event. It puts all of the GSMA's recommendations and strategies into practice, making sure its employees will have left China 14 days prior to MWC, implementing a 'no-handshake policy,' and disinfecting its exhibition booth and products "on a frequent basis."
ZTE was initially rumored to withdraw from the Spanish event completely, but it has confirmed on Twitter that its MWC plans haven't changed too much after all and that it's taking measures to ensure the safety of everyone. Due to the GSMA's regulation, it's already in the process of self-quarantining its employees from mainland China.
With all the safety measures implemented by the GSMA, the chance of a coronavirus outbreak during MWC should be considered low. Still, it's understandable that companies are extremely cautious considering the virus is so novel. Hopefully, the event won't be fully canceled — with the missing companies, it'll surely be less crowded than previous years already.
MWC officially canceled
The GSMA has officially decided to cancel MWC 2020. Read more about it here.