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Coronavirus Fears Lead to Mobile World Congress Cancellation

MADRID — The Mobile World Congress, Europe’s largest telecom conference scheduled to take place Feb. 24-27, has been cancelled after more than a dozen participating companies announced they would not be sending delegates for fear of the spread of coronavirus.

By Wednesday afternoon, more than a dozen companies had already pulled out, including Amazon, Nokia, Deutsche Telekom, Facebook, Sony, Intel, Cisco, Vodafone and LG.

“Due to the outbreak and continued concerns about novel coronavirus, Amazon will withdraw from exhibiting and participating in Mobile World Congress 2020,” Amazon said in a statement.

Vodafone announced that: “While the potential risk is hard to quantify accurately at this stage, we have taken this decision because we place the utmost importance in the safety and wellbeing of our employees, customers and partners.”

In a statement, MWC organizer and mobile operator lobbying group GSMA announced: “With due regard to the safe and healthy environment in Barcelona and the host country today, the GSMA has canceled 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.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Spain’s health minister Slavador Illa refused to declare a public health emergency in the country, where only two cases of coronavirus have been confirmed.

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The organization had previously stated it would conduct health checks and step up sanitation efforts around the venue and refuse entry to anyone who had been in China in the previous two weeks.

According to the GSMA, the Congress typically hosts between 5,000 and 6,000 guests from China alone, with Huawei being one of the event’s largest exhibitors.

It’s not yet clear who will bear the financial burden of the cancellation, which is sure to have a significant effect on the local economy. Beyond the expenses of the GSMA itself, Catalan media have previously estimated that the event generates €492 million ($546.1 million) for the city and creates about 14,000 temporary jobs.

The statement went on to say: “The host city parties respect and understand this decision. The GSMA and the host city partners will continue to be working in unison and supporting each other for MWC Barcelona 2021 and future editions.”

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