E. Genillo / m. Espanyol – mADRID
The organizer of the Mobile World Congress, GSMA, finally decided to suspend the most important technology fair in the world and has been held since 2006 in Barcelona. In a statement sent yesterday to the Bloomberg news agency, John Hoffman, executive director of the GSMA, said: “With due respect to the safe and healthy environment in Barcelona and the host country, today, GSMA canceled the MWC 2020 before the global concern regarding the outbreak of coronavirus. Concerns about transfers and other circumstances make it impossible to celebrate. Of course, he clarified that the event will return to the Catalan capital in 2021 and in subsequent editions and that the City Council that Ada Adau captains «respects and understands» the decision.
Since LG announced on February 4 that it would not attend to ensure the safety of its employees, the drop in casualties has been relentless. It was the first and the one that initiated the domino effect that has ended with a total of 33 companies being deleted from the list of participants. The final thrust to the fair came yesterday when Vodafone, Orange and Deutsche Telekom announced that they would not participate either. It was what led the organization to convene a crisis committee. Not only because they were very significant absences in the technological field, but because these companies are representatives of the GSMA board – together with Telefónica, AT&T, América Móvil, China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom, among others – and those that forced a meeting that was scheduled for tomorrow.
The confusion reigned throughout yesterday. The council debated for more than six hours and before it was finished, a spokesman announced that the Mobile would be kept on schedule, from February 24 to 27, and that the security of the attendees would be guaranteed because «there will be meetings with health experts, both from Spain and other countries ». However, among the operators registered to the fair the extended version was another. They knew it was not a final decision. After eight o’clock in the afternoon the bad omens were confirmed, the cancellation of the MWC, the hen of the golden eggs of Barcelona with an economic impact of almost 500 million euros.
Now there are several issues left in the air. The first if GSMA will consider postponing the fair for when the outbreak of Covid-19 is controlled. Second, how will the companies that did confirm their participation, such as Sansumg, Huawei or Xiaomi, among others, respond.
A cancellation of the Mobile World Congress means serious economic losses for GSMA given the compensation that should be paid to these companies and that have incurred significant expenses. It must be taken into account that in order to comply with the security measures for the risk of contagion, Chinese companies have had to send their employees to Barcelona two weeks ahead of schedule. To reduce the amount of such compensation, it would be necessary for the Government to declare a health risk situation, as other countries have done. That is, it would have been a situation of “force majeure” that would have justified the cancellation of the event.
But the Minister of Health, Salvador Illa, appeared yesterday in the Catalan capital to say the opposite. The health authorities of Spain and Catalonia met at the Hospital Clínic de Barcelona, a reference in epidemiology, to assess the risks of holding an event like Mobile in Barcelona next week. And after listening to top experts on the subject, they insisted that “there is no public health reason that advises us to cancel it,” said Illa. “The only syndrome to fight is that of fear,” said the head of Health of the Generalitat of Catalonia, Alba Vergés.
Since the outbreak of coronavirus put Mobile in check, both the Government and Generaitat and City Hall closed ranks to defend their celebration. The statements of each other were followed to call for calm and ensure that there was no health risk that advised cancellation. But it has not helped. LG was followed by Ericsson, Nvidia, Amazon, Facebook, Sony, Ntt Docomo, Vivo, Intel, Cisco, the European Vodafone, Orange, BT and Deutsche Telekom, as well as the Finnish Nokia and a long etcetera until reaching 33, the number end of companies that decided not to expose their employees to the risks of contagion of coronavirus.
In Spain, only two cases have been confirmed – both infected outside our borders – but these technicians considered that the measures taken by GSMA – such as avoiding handshakes or changing microphones after each intervention, in addition to those mentioned – could become fully effective.
The authorities have left today the assessments to the news. Ada Colau and Hoffman will appear at a press conference to assess the enormous consequences of the Mobile suspension.