Coronavirus fears kill MWC 2020 after big companies pulled out

The world's largest mobile technology event in Barcelona, Mobile World Congress 2020, has been canceled after a number of large companies withdrew, fearing the spread of the coronavirus. (Getty Images)

The upcoming Mobile World Congress 2020 in Barcelona is canceled due to fears over the spread of the coronavirus.

Many businesses have feared the increasing loss of life as well as the economic impact. The MWC’s collapse is one of the biggest signs yet of that impact, since it was expected to bring together companies from around the world and was set to attract 100,000 visitors at the end of the month, from Feb. 24-27.

The organizer of the event, GSMA, issued a statement Wednesday that the event was canceled “because the global concern regarding the coronavirus outbreak, travel concern and other circumstances make it impossible for the GSMA to hold the event.”

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Earlier Wednesday, STMicroelectronics, the largest chipmaker in Europe, issued a statement that it was not attending MWC and the Embedded World event in Germany later this month, Feb. 25-27.

For two weeks, electronics companies and equipment and consumer products makers such as Apple have been citing concerns that the virus would impact the ability of Chinese companies to supply components. Some of these companies have returned workers from China.

GSMA’s closure of the MWC came after a number of large exhibitors pulled out, including Ericsson last week. LG was the first big name to pull out, but Nokia, Deutsche Telekom and BT also dropped out.

Reuters said on Feb. 6 that more than two dozen large trade fairs and conferences in Asia were postponed.

Semi, a global group that represents vendors of semi production systems, canceled its Semicon Korea event that was due to run Feb. 5-7. It normally attracts 50,000 visitors.

The new coronavirus was discovered in December in Wuhan, China. The illness affects humans with symptoms similar to pneumonia and migrated to 30 other nations, including the U.S., and has infected more than 45,000 people and killed more than 1,100 as of Wednesday.

Prior to cancelling MWC 2020, GSMA had instituted a no-handshake policy and urged people from some areas of China not to attend. Those steps apparently didn’t persuade many.

RELATED: Coronavirus effects ripple through electronics industry

The number of coronavirus deaths has already exceeded the SARS crisis of 2003. The economic impact could be worse if not brought under control in the next month, said Panos Kouvelis, a supply chain expert who serves as director of the Boeing Center for Supply Chain Innovation and is a professor in operations and manufacturing management at Washington University in St.Louis, Missouri. He spoke in an interview with FierceElectronics.

In recent weeks, the electronics industry has been paring down inventory, but eventually production slowdowns could create shortages, he said. Production slowdowns in China have occurred because workers cannot travel and get to jobs. Smartphones and autos are particularly affected. China reportedly accounts for one-sixth of Apple's business.

The economic impact on Barcelona with the MWC cancellation has been estimated at $500 million. Kouvelis believes that the economic impact on China will lead to, at most, low single digit economic growth that could have ripple effects worldwide.

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