Sony, Amazon pull out of Barcelona Mobile World Congress over coronavirus fears

Several major tech companies have withdrawn from the annual event due to concerns about the disease, which has so far infected two people in Spain

Visitors to last year’s Mobile World Congress.
Visitors to last year’s Mobile World Congress.Pau Barrena

The novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 900 people and infected over 40,000 worldwide by the latest count, is also having a growing impact on business.

The US online retail giant Amazon and the Japanese multinational Sony have announced they will not be participating in the Mobile World Congress (MWC), the biggest annual industry event. The MWC, which showcases the latest innovation in mobile technology, is being held in the Spanish city of Barcelona between February 24 and 27.

The decisions were prompted by the global health alert over what scientists have termed the 2019-nCoV acute respiratory disease, which was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

We have taken the difficult decision to withdraw from exhibiting and participating at MWC 2020 in Barcelona, Spain
Sony statement

Amazon and Sony are following other well-known names who have pulled out of the global event citing coronavirus concerns: the computer graphics hardware designer Nvidia, the electronics company LG and the equipment maker Ericsson.

Also on Monday, NTT Dococo, the main cellphone operator in Japan, said it will not be coming to the Barcelona event. The Chinese firm TCL, which was formerly known as Alcatel and until recently manufactured Blackberry devices, said that it will be at the fair, but will not be offering a press conference.

In a bid to stem the flow of cancellations, MWC organizers had recently announced that they would not permit access to travelers from the Chinese province of Hubei, the epicenter of the coronavirus, or to anyone who has been in China in the 14 days prior to the event.

But even this has not been enough. “Due to the outbreak and continued concerns about the new coronavirus, Amazon will withdraw from exhibiting and participating in Mobile World Congress 2020,” the company said in a statement on Sunday that was reported by Reuters. The online retailer was going to participate through its Amazon Web Services division, which provides cloud computing.

“As we place the utmost importance on the safety and well-being 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,” added Sony in its own statement on Monday.

The event organizer, the GSMA telecoms industry association, is now waiting to see whether Amazon and Sony’s decisions will have a domino effect or whether the measures it has taken to limit travel from China will be enough to reassure the other exhibitors. Around 5 to 6% of MWC attendees come from China, said the GSMA in a statement on Sunday.

This year’s event had been expected to draw around 106,000 people to the Catalan capital, but that figure could be significantly reduced. The Barcelona hotel industry has admitted that there has been a rise in cancellations for the period coinciding with the MWC.

Second case in Spain

Hospital de Son Espases, en Palma.
Hospital de Son Espases, en Palma.E. Calvo (Reuters)

Spain’s National Microbiology Center on Sunday confirmed a second case of novel coronavirus in the country. A British national who lives with his family in Mallorca, in the Balearic Islands, has tested positive for the disease.

The patient returned to the Balearics on January 29 after going on a skiing trip to the French Alps. It was there that he was in close contact with a group of British people, six of whom have since tested positive for the virus.

The case has been described as “very mild” by Fernando Simón, director of the Health Alert and Emergency Coordination Center, a department of the Spanish Health Ministry. The patient has been quarantined at Son Espases hospital in Palma. His wife and two children are under observation, as one of them has the flu.

The Health Ministry said on Sunday that authorities in the Balearics are trying to identify all the people that the man was recently in touch with, including passengers on the Geneva-Barcelona and Barcelona-Palma flights that he took to return home. The first case in Spain is a German tourist who traveled to La Gomera in the Canary Islands.

Reporting by Lucía Bohórquez and Oriol Guëll

English version by Susana Urra.

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