MADRID/PARIS/BERLIN – The Mobile World Congress (MWC), the annual telecom industry gathering that draws more than 100,000 visitors to Barcelona, Spain, was canceled on Wednesday after a mass exodus by exhibitors due to fears over the coronavirus outbreak.
Bowing to the inevitable, the GSMA telecom association that hosts the Barcelona get-together said it had canceled the event planned for Feb. 24-27 despite assurances from local and national health officials that it would have been safe to hold it.
“The GSMA has canceled 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,” John Hoffman, the CEO of organizer GSMA, said in a statement.
The announcement followed a crisis meeting of the GSMA board, after its hand was forced by the pullout of anchor European members including Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone , BT and Nokia.
Barcelona’s mayor, Ada Colau, said earlier she wanted to send a “message of calm,” insisting the city was ready to host the event, while Spanish health officials reiterated that there was no reason to call off MWC.
That failed, however, to alleviate concerns among major exhibitors that the precautions would be insufficient to halt the virus that has spread beyond China’s borders to two dozen countries.
“To bring people together and connect them: That is what Telekom stands for. This is also what the Mobile World Congress, the ‘class reunion’ of our industry, stands for,” Deutsche Telekom CEO Tim Hoettges posted on LinkedIn.
He added, however, that large gatherings of people with many international guests posed a particular risk: “To take this risk would be irresponsible.”