MWC is pleading with Barcelona to let it cancel its own event

PAU BARRENA/AFP via Getty Images

Mobile World Congress (MWC) organiser the GSMA is lobbying the Spanish government to declare a health emergency that would allow it to cancel the biggest phone show in the world, WIRED understands.

Sources close to the GSMA said negotiations to cancel the event have hit a roadblock, and the organisation will not be able to claim back insurance on MWC if Catalonian authorities do not block the event from happening.

The GSMA was forced to issue a decision on whether to cancel the event as early as Wednesday after an emergency meeting scheduled for 13:00 GMT, as mass drop-outs from companies concerned about the spread of coronavirus.

The GSMA said it is “monitoring“ the fast-changing coronavirus situation.

A GSMA spokesperson said: “This includes regularly meeting with global and Spanish health experts – as well as our partners – to ensure the wellbeing of attendees.”

WIRED understands that the GSMA no longer wants to go ahead with MWC after companies including Facebook, Amazon, LG, Intel, Ericsson, Vivo, ZTE, Nvidia, Cisco, Sony, HMD, and Volvo dropped out. Orange, Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom, McAfee, BT and HMD Global, which makes Nokia-branded phones, cancelled on Wednesday.

Samsung, Huawei, Oppo, Xiaomi and Motorola issued statements last week saying that they still plan to go. TCL has cancelled its press conference but still plans to attend MWC as scheduled.

However, sources close to the organisers have said that it could be forced to go ahead with the event even if its numbers are decimated to avoid a hefty cancellation bill. Spain declaring a health emergency would allow the GSMA to claim the costs on its insurance, sources said.

Over 100,000 people from 200 countries were expected to travel in Barcelona to attend the annual trade fair, which was due to start on February 24 and last four days.

However, fears over the spread of the coronavirus caused several major exhibitors to pull out at a rapid rate, while others resorted to self-imposed quarantines and slimmed down delegations.

Huawei and Oppo were among the companies trying to play it safe. They said that those attending MWC this year from China – including executives, presenters, and service staff – will be quarantined outside of China for at least 14 days before the event.

Coronavirus has already killed more than 1,100 people and infected more than 42,000, and its spread has yet to be contained.

The GSMA initially announced a series of measures to safeguard people attending the event, including a ban on delegates travelling from the province in China where the virus was first identified.

MWC generates around 14,000 temporary jobs in Barcelona and makes €492 million (almost £414m) for the city, according to a report from El Pais.

Barcelona’s mayor Ada Colau said on Wednesday afternoon that the city was “perfectly prepared” for Mobile World Congress to take place, and that there remained “no reason whatsoever” to apply emergency measures, according to a report by Spanish outlet La Vanguardia.

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