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Mobile World Congress called off due to exhibitors pulling out, despite health authorities' 'safe' verdict
13 February 2020 @ 16:34


MOBILE World Congress organisers have cancelled the huge annual trade fair in Barcelona after several major technology companies pulled out as a precaution in light of the Coronavirus outbreak.

Although national and regional health authorities insist going ahead with the MWC would be completely safe, the fact that 30 global corporations – largely based in Asia – have opted not to travel has forced the hands of the organisers, GSMA.

Managing director of the firm, John Hoffman, announced just before midnight in an official communication that, for the first time in history, the MWC would not be going ahead.

Ericsson, Rakuten, Nokia, Amazon and Facebook followed on after LG announced it would not be attending, and Orange, Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom and BT decided today (Wednesday) that they would be pulling out.

Vodafone is one of the 26 companies that make up the GSMA committee which organises the trade fair and which held a crisis meeting to discuss whether to proceed.

AT&T and NTT Docomo later said they felt it best to cancel their plans.

Until almost the last minute, GSMA was planning to go ahead with the MWC anyway, but the four main European network providers Vodafone, Orange, BT and Telefónica's having decided not to take part turned out to be decisive.

GSMA comprises around 800 mobile operators and 200 corporations.

It is not thought the MWC will be postponed and held later in the year – the 2020 edition will be written off altogether, and GSMA will start working early on the 2021 event in Barcelona.

Spain's second-largest city is under contract to act as venue until the year 2023 inclusive, and GSMA is very happy with its facilities and infrastructure for the purposes of the MWC.

It is likely the contract will be renewed after the 2023 edition.

Experts have already insisted the risk of Coronavirus – or Covid-19 – contagion at the MWC is virtually nil, but the fact that it has spread so fast across China from its original source in the city of Wuhan, which remains in lockdown, with around 400 cases outside of China already reported, means most of the world is being exceptionally cautious.

GSMA may be forced to pay compensation to those who will lose money through the cancellation of the MWC out of its own pocket, given that insurance companies only indemnify financial losses caused by the presence of contagious or infectious disease epidemics or pandemics where a public health alert has been issued.

This is not the case in Spain – no public health alert has been issued because there is no need to – and, in any event, the MWC has not been cancelled due to a contagious disease outbreak; rather, due to participants opting not to attend because of their perception of this risk.

The firms which opted to cancel their attendance will have to bear their own financial losses, but those which had been planning to do so and are now unable to due to the event's being called off may seek compensation from GSMA if their own insurers do not cover these costs.



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