Telecoms extravaganza Mobile World Congress (MWC) has been cancelled after fears over the coronavirus sparked a mass exodus by some of the world’s biggest tech giants.
GSMA, which organises the annual conference, today said the outbreak had made it “impossible” for the event to go ahead later this month.
“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,” chief executive John Hoffman said in a statement.
It comes after a string of drop-outs from major tech giants including Nokia, Ericsson, Amazon and Facebook.
In a statement issued on Monday, GSMA insisted the conference would still go ahead, outlining a list of health precautions, including a ban on visitors from the Hubei province — where the outbreak started — and a no-handshake policy.
However, the body was forced to hold an emergency board meeting today after a fresh wave of attendees, including BT, Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom, withdrew from the event.
It marks the first time that the telecom industry’s largest events has been scrapped since it was established in 1987.
The cancellation will come as a major blow to Barcelona, as MWC’s 100,000 visitors give a boost of roughly $500m (£386m) to the local economy, according to GSMA estimates.
It is unclear whether GSMA will have to shoulder the costs of the cancellations, with experts stating any insurance policy would be unlikely to kick in unless restrictions were placed on public gatherings due to health concerns.
Barcelona’s mayor Ada Colau today she wanted to send a “message of calm”, insisting the city was ready to host the event. Health minister Salvador Illa said the government’s goal was protecting people’s health, but that it would take additional measures if necessary.
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MWC was due to take place in Barcelona from 24 to 27 February.