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Coronavirus and MWC: Which major brands have pulled out of the world’s biggest phone event?

UPDATE FEBRUARY 12: The GSMA, which organises Mobile World Congress (MWC), has announced that this year’s conference has been cancelled because of the coronavirus outbreak. Ahead of the cancellation it had announced a list of safety measures, including a no-handshakes policy, the availability of sanitising and disinfection materials for public use, and temperature checks. 

The original article follows…

The biggest smartphone event of the year, Mobile World Congress (MWC), is set to take place in Barcelona this month, but the outbreak and spread of novel coronavirus has cast a dark shadow − and plenty of uncertainty − over proceedings.

If the level of concern in the tech community around the spread of the virus was high before, it went up a notch after LG, which traditionally has an enormous presence at the show, dropped out on February 4, and the GSMA, which organises MWC, subsequently advised attendees − there were more than 100,000 of them last year − to not shake hands with anybody at the event, which officially runs from February 24 to February 27 but will actually kick off a day or two earlier.

This strain of coronavirus originated in Wuhan, and it has spread quickly across mainland China. Though more cases are being detected and reported around the world, the infection count outside China is still low.

At the time of publication, Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker says there have been 44,685 confirmed cases in mainland China, followed by 50 in Hong Kong, 47 in Singapore, 33 in Thailand, 28 in South Korea, 28 in Japan, 18 in Taiwan, 18 in Malaysia, 16 in Germany and 15 in Australia.

The World Health Organization has officially declared the novel coronavirus outbreak to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, but it has not recommended any travel or trade restrictions yet.

However, as timings go this is a terrible moment for a major international convention to take place. From experience, it’s not unusual for myself or my colleagues to come down with something after attending a trade show like MWC, and fears that coronavirus could spread through MWC very quickly are entirely legitimate.

Unfortunately, the sadly predictable stench of xenophobia that has coloured the coronavirus outbreak from the outset means there’s been a quiet expectation for the brands from Asia to justify their presence at the show and explain what precautions their delegates are taking, more than any others.

Several of the world’s biggest smartphone brands, of course, are based in China (Huawei, Oppo, OnePlus, Xiaomi, ZTE), South Korea (LG, Samsung), and Japan (Sony).

Read on to see what the major brands that were expected to attend MWC have said ahead of the event. The list below is not exhaustive, but we’ve done our best to include the heavyweights of the show.

LG

As mentioned above, LG has decided not to attend MWC 2020.

“With the safety of its employees, partners and customers foremost in mind, LG has decided to withdraw from exhibiting and participating in MWC 2020 later this month in Barcelona, Spain,” the company announced on February 4.

“This decision removes the risk of exposing hundreds of LG employees to international travel which has already become more restrictive as the virus continues to spread across borders.”

Ericsson

Swedish telecoms giant Ericsson pulled out shortly after.

“The health and safety of our employees, customers and other stakeholders are our highest priority. This is not a decision we have taken lightly,” said Börje Ekholm, the president and CEO of Ericsson, on February 7.

“We were looking forward to showcasing our latest innovations at MWC in Barcelona. It is very unfortunate, but we strongly believe the most responsible business decision is to withdraw our participation from this year’s event.”

ZTE

There was initially some confusion around ZTE’s involvement, but the company has clarified that it will attend the show. However, it has cancelled its press conference.

“To clarify, ZTE will participate in MWC 2020 as planned, showcasing comprehensive 5G end-to-end solutions and a wide variety of 5G devices,” a spokesperson for ZTE told Trusted Reviews.

“ZTE’s booth at MWC 2020 is in 3F30, Hall 3, FIRA GRAN VIA. The ZTE Devices press conference scheduled on February 25, which is just one of multiple planned activities, was cancelled. A wide variety of new 5G devices will still be demonstrated at the ZTE booth during MWC 2020 as planned.”

Huawei

Huawei has said that it still plans to attend MWC 2020.

“MWC Barcelona 2020 begins on February 24, and Huawei will attend as planned,” a Huawei spokesperson told Trusted Reviews on February 6.

“Huawei will work with GSMA and the local government on preventive measures to help contain the spread of the 2019-nCoV virus. The health and safety of our employees and other attendees is our top priority for this event.”

Nvidia

Nvidia, another company that tends to have a significant presence at the show, has also dropped out.

“We’ve informed GSMA, the organizers of MWC Barcelona, that we won’t be sending our employees to this year’s event,” Nvidia announced on February 7.

“Given public health risks around the coronavirus, ensuring the safety of our colleagues, partners and customers is our highest concern.

“MWC Barcelona is one of the world’s most important technology conferences. We’ve been looking forward to sharing our work in AI, 5G and vRAN with the industry. We regret not attending, but believe this is the right decision.”

Sony

Sony’s MWC press conference traditionally takes place right at the start of the first official day of the conference, but that will not be the case this year. It will, however, still go ahead − presumably not in Barcelona − and you’ll be able tune in via YouTube.

“Sony has been closely monitoring the evolving situation following the novel coronavirus outbreak, which was declared a global emergency by the World Health Organization on January 30th, 2020,” Sony announced on February 10.

“As we place the utmost importance on the safety and wellbeing of our customers, partners, media and employees, we have taken the difficult decision to withdraw from exhibiting and participating at MWC 2020 in Barcelona, Spain.

“The Sony press conference will now instead take place at the scheduled time of 8:30am (CET) on February 24, 2020 as a video via our official Xperia YouTube channel to share our exciting product news.”

Amazon

Amazon isn’t really one of the main players at MWC but, as one of the world’s biggest tech companies, its withdrawal from the show is significant.

“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,” an Amazon spokesperson told TechCrunch on February 10.

Intel

“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,” a spokesperson for Intel told VentureBeat on February 10.

“We are grateful to the GSMA for their understanding and look forward to attending and supporting future Mobile World Congress events.”

TCL

TCL Communications, which has been designing, selling and manufacturing BlackBerry devices since December 2016 (but not for much longer), has cancelled its MWC press conference, but it will still launch and showcase its newest products at the show.

Vivo

“Vivo has been closely monitoring the Novel Coronavirus Pneumonia (NCP) outbreak and continuously evaluating planned activities,” Vivo said in an official statement released on February 11.

“The health and safety of our employees and the public are our top priority. Based on the present situation, we have decided to withdraw from our debut at MWC 2020 and other related events later this month in Barcelona, Spain.”

It added: “We will introduce the APEX 2020 concept phone which we had originally planned to showcase at MWC soon. We will share more updates in due course.

“We apologize for any inconvenience caused and would like to thank our partners, media friends and consumers for their understanding.”

Nokia

Nokia, which was expected to unveil its new flagship smartphone at MWC, has also pulled out of the event.

“Nokia has been carefully monitoring the situation following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, with the goal of making a fact-based decision related to our attendance at Mobile World Congress in 2020,” Nokia announced on February 12.

“While the health and safety of our employees is our absolute priority, we also recognize that we have a responsibility to the industry and our customers. In view of this, we have taken the necessary time to evaluate a fast-moving situation, engage with the GSMA and other stakeholders, regularly consult external experts and authorities, and plan to manage risks based on a wide range of scenarios.

“The conclusion of that process is that we believe the prudent decision is to cancel our participation at Mobile World Congress.”

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