The Mobile World Congress (MWC) is still on, despite the stream of withdrawal announcements by tech firms due to the coronavirus crisis. At least for the time being, with a final decision to be made on Friday. This was the resolution reached at the emergency meeting held today by GSMA, organizer of the massive trade fair, which has explained that rather than decide to cancel it, they prefer to keep it convened at present and watch how the coronavirus situation develops - according to Reuters, which has had access to today's press release. Thus, the mobile phone industry's largest annual gathering is still set to go ahead from February 24th to 27th in Barcelona as planned, though with many fewer companies in attendance.
The worldwide alert prompted by the coronavirus outbreak in China has caused more than thirty companies to cancel their attendance at the congress, including major brands such as Ericsson, Facebook, Nokia, Rakuten, and Cisco. All of these withdrawals, plus the decisions to stay away by large telecom operators which are part of the GSMA committee, such as Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom, have left the future of the MWC in the air.
The emergency meeting called today was attended by 26 senior executives from companies that form part of the GSMA committee, including Telefónica, Orange, Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom, Telenor, Verizon, NTT Docomo and Turkcell. However, the decision taken was not final and a definitive announcement will be made on Friday, but four members of the GSMA board have already announced their own withdrawal: Deutsche Telekom, AT&T, Vodafone and NTT Docomo.
Authorities and business groups appeal for calm
Despite the great uncertainty, the Spanish and Catalan governments have repeatedly called for a calm approach to the issue, emphasising that "Barcelona is not an area of risk" and that "we need to have confidence in the public health system: we are ready and we know what we are facing", spokespeople explain in both Madrid and Barcelona. Messages of reassurance that have not yet been fully accepted.
Similar appeals have been made by employers' groups and unions. Small businesses association Pimec has publically backed the organizers and alerted "about the effect of cancellations on SMEs and the Catalan capital in general", emphasizing that the 2019 edition of the MWC brought 473 million euros into the Barcelona economy and led to the creation of 13,900 jobs. Trade union CCOO called "for responsibility from all parties involved, while also completely maintaining confidence in the health and safety authorities, as well as the workers in these fields." At the same time, the union caled for "rigour" and for "the recommendations and instructions of the international authorities to be followed". CCOO noted that Catalonia has not yet had any case of coronavirus infection and also took the opportunity to state that "we have an excellent public health system".
But there is no final decision yet, even if, in spite of the predictions of many, today's meeting did not conclude with the cancellation of the congress but rather with a decision that, for the moment, it is still on. On Friday, we'll know definitively.