09 February 2020
New Delhi: Novel coronavirus, which has killed over 700 in China and infected thousands across the globe so far, has now created initial chaos for the upcoming Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2020 in Barcelona, with LG, Ericsson and Nvidia set to skip the mega event.
Employees of Chinese companies make up a huge proportion of over one lakh attendees at MWC every year.
According to reports, the show has a big economic impact of 492 million euros this year, generating over 14,000 part-time jobs, according to the GSMA, the industry trade body and the MWC organiser which represents more than 1,200 companies across the mobile ecosystem.
Although the GSMA has said the show must go on, the withdrawal symptoms can now be seen on tech companies which do not want to take any risk with the health of their employees.
Nvidia, a major sponsor of the conference which partnered with the GSMA to host 10 sessions and roundtables around Artificial Intelligence (AI), pulled off from the event on Saturday.
"Given the public health risks around coronavirus, ensuring the safety of our colleagues, partners and customers is our highest concern. We have been looking forward to sharing our work in AI and 5G with the industry, we regret not attending, but believe this is the right decision," the company said in a statement.
Nvidia joined Swedish telecom giant Ericsson and South Korean major LG in saying no to the event.
Although no major Chinese smartphone maker has yet announced its exit, the situation is grim and changing by the day as the virus impacts supply chains and disrupts tech companies' 2020 plans.
Ericsson said that as one of the largest exhibitors, it has thousands of visitors in its hall each day and even if the risk is low, the company cannot guarantee the health and safety of its employees and visitors.
LG said it "has decided to withdraw from exhibiting and participating in MWC 2020 later this month in Barcelona, Spain, with safety of its employees, partners and customers in mind".
Industry watchers have also warned that other tech companies may soon follow suit.
"Yes, it can lead to a drop in footfalls as Chinese participants are likely to skip or nominate their colleagues from other regions," said Tarun Pathak, Associate Director, Counterpoint Research, adding that the potential impact will be more clear closer to the event date which is later this month.
The World Health Organization (WHO), which has upgraded the coronavirus' status to a global health emergency, has said that there "is no evidence at present to suggest that there is a community spread in Europe, so WHO/Europe is not currently requesting that large gatherings are cancelled".
Still, tech companies are not taking any risk and we may see more of those deciding on the MWC 2020 participation as early as next week.
There is also a possibility that some of the smartphone launch events get postponed or cancelled, according to experts.