Sony, NTT latest to pull out of Barcelona congress over coronavirus

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Japan’s largest wireless carrier, NTT Docomo, and Sony Corp on Monday became the latest companies to pull out of an international telecoms conference in Barcelona this month because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Six firms have now withdrawn from The Mobile World Congress (MWC), which in 2019 attracted more than 100,000 visitors and upwards of 2,400 exhibitors, and is due to take place on Feb24-27. The conference ranks as the telecom industry’s biggest gathering, with companies spending millions on stands and hospitality to fill their order books for the year ahead.

NTT and Sony join Amazon, South Korea’s LGE lectronics, Swedish equipment maker Ericsson and U.S. chipmaker Nvidia, which have already said they will not attend this year’s event. GSMA, the conference organiser, had no immediate comment.

Sources close to exhibitors say that if participants decide to cancel, they would have to bear the cost. The GSMA would only be liable if it calls off the whole conference. Sony said its launch event would be held via video.

“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,” it said in a statement.

NTT said in a statement that it had withdrawn after taking into consideration the safety of its customer, partners and staff. It did not immediately confirm whether its chief executive, Kazuhiro Yoshizawa, would continue as a speaker in the main opening keynote panel of the conference.

GSMA said on Sunday that no-one from China’s Hubei province,where the coronavirus outbreak began, would be allowed to attend, while visitors from China must prove they have been outside the country for at least two weeks prior to the event. These measures add to earlier actions aimed at preventing the spread of the virus across the conference’s three main venues, including changing microphones between speakers and advising all attendees not to shake hands.

The death toll from coronavirus in mainland China has risen above 900, with more than 40,000 people infected. More than two dozen countries are grappling with the virus, which has infected more than 330 people outside China. Spain has two cases confirmed on islands off the mainland. In 2019, some 6% of Mobile World Congress attendees were from China, GSMA’s post-congress report showed.

Most were from Europe, around 64%, as were about 45% of the exhibitors. China’s Huawei and ZTE have said they will attend, ordering China-based staff to self-isolate ahead of MWC and drafting in European staff to cover for those not able to attend from China.

The GSMA, an industry association representing more than 750operators and 400 companies in the mobile business, estimates that the MWC boosted the Barcelona economy by around 470 millioneuros ($515 million) in 2019.

A Catalan regional government official ruled out that the event could be cancelled or postponed. “We are taking measures so that everything proceeds as normal … There is no reason to not attend,” the region’s digital policy councillor, Jordi Puignero, told local radio station RAC1.