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World's biggest mobile tech show cancelled over COVID-19 coronavirus fears

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By Laurie Timmers  with AP
FILE PHOTO - A woman takes a photograph of her own portrait displayed in 3D at the NTT company stand during the Mobile World Congress wireless show, in Barcelona, Spain
FILE PHOTO - A woman takes a photograph of her own portrait displayed in 3D at the NTT company stand during the Mobile World Congress wireless show, in Barcelona, Spain   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Francisco Seco   -  

The world's biggest mobile technology fair has been cancelled over worries about the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.

The annual Mobile World Congress will no longer be held as planned in Barcelona, in Spain, on 24-27 February.

John Hoffman, head of the Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA) organising body, said that “global concern regarding the coronavirus outbreak, travel concern and other circumstances, make it impossible for the GSMA to hold the event”.

The decision was taken on Wednesday, after scores of tech companies and wireless carriers announced on Wednesday they were pulling out of the fair, including by Nokia, Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom and BT.

Ericsson, Nokia, Sony, Amazon, Intel and LG dropped out earlier. All the companies cited concerns for the safety of both staff and visitors.

Hoffman stated that although GSMA had considered a scaled-down event, the plan was discarded after all the buyers had indicated they would not attend the fair.

The idea of postponing the showcase was rejected as well, as it was “impossible to predict when this situation is going to conclude”, explained the chief executive.

Dr Mike Ryan, the World Health Organisation’s emergencies chief, said before the cancellation that the show could have gone on.

He stated that while no mass gathering is ever risk-free - with the potential for food poisoning, injuries or building collapse - most events “can continue if the proper measures can be applied”.

Spanish labour unions said the show was called off due to the panic of the major technology companies. The Workers' Commissions (CCOO) union’s regional leader, Javier Pacheco, denounced “the alarmist attitude of the technology companies that from their position of global supremacy don’t care about the local impact.”

But Tim Bajarin, president of consultancy Creative Strategies, said the cancellation was prudent with all the unknowns surrounding how the new virus is spread and the fact that many companies had already pulled out.

The organising body said on Thursday it does not know yet the cost of cancelling the tech show. Mats Granryd, director-general of the GSMA, pointed out it was too early to discuss the economic impact of the cancellation.

The annual tech extravaganza was expected to draw more than 100,000 visitors from about 200 countries, including 5,000 to 6,000 from China.

The show normally represents a huge source of revenue for hotels, restaurants and taxi companies, and was to generate 473 million euros and more than 14,000 part-time jobs for the local economy.

Spain’s vice president, Carmen Calvo, said there was “no public health reason” to call off the show. She added that Spain has a good health response system and was following all of the recommendations from the World Health Organisation.