Mobile World Congress to go ahead, LG pulls out over virus

(Reuters) – An international telecoms conference in Barcelona that attracts more than 100,000 visitors will go ahead as planned this month, the organizer said, even after Korea’s LG Electronics withdrew due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The Mobile World Congress has come under scrutiny since the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus epidemic a public health emergency of international concern.

GSMA, an industry association representing more than 750 operators and 400 companies in the mobile business, said it had seen minimal impact so far on the event, which would be held as scheduled on Feb 24-27.

“We have spoken to LG and regret not to see them at this year’s MWC20 Barcelona,” a GSMA spokesperson said in response to a Reuters inquiry following the announcement by the South Korean electronics group.

The association this week announced measures to help prevent the spread of the virus across the event’s three main venues, including changing microphones between speakers and advising all attendees to adopt a “no-handshake policy”.

The newly identified virus, which first appeared in Wuhan late last year, has killed nearly 500 people in China, as well as one person in Hong Kong and one in the Philippines.

Mainland China has reported more than 24,000 confirmed cases, while more than 150 cases have been confirmed in two dozen countries and regions around the world.

On Wednesday, China’s Huawei Technologies said it would take part in the congress as planned. “We are keeping a close eye on matters and having to internally adjust accordingly and responsibly,” said a spokesman.

China’s ZTE Corp and mobile phone maker Oppo said they would continue with plans to exhibit at the event while IT services provider NEC Corp said it was pushing forward with plans to attend for now.

ZTE Corp said all its staff and management traveling to the Congress from mainland China would undergo two weeks of self isolation after their arrival in Europe and the company would also disinfect its exhibition stand daily. But the company said the majority of its staff attending would travel from Europe rather than mainland China.

South Korean media said LG Elecronics, which is losing money on mobile business, had been planning to unveil its new flagship smartphones at the Congress.

In 2019, some 6% of Mobile World Congress attendees were from China, according to GSMA’s post-congress report. Most attendees were from Europe, around 64%, as were about 45% of the exhibitors.

The GSMA estimates that the Mobile World Congress boosted the local Barcelona economy by around 470 million euros ($520 million) last year, as delegates pack the city’s hotels, wine and dine contacts and pile into taxis to the sprawling Fira trade fair ground that hosts the event.

(Reporting by Douglas Busvine, Supantha Mukherjee, Jessica Jones and Hyunjoo Jin, writing by Ashifa Kassam, Editing by Andrei Khalip/Philippa Fletcher/Jane Merriman)