MWC steps up safety as coronavirus causes concern
GSMA, the organiser of the upcoming MWC (formerly Mobile World Congress) exhibition in Barcelona has announced enhanced health and safety measures to combat unease over the coronavirus.
In recent days, some of the most well-known exhibitors have confirmed plans to withdraw from the event over concerns for safety. These include Amazon, Ericsson, Nvidia, Sony and Viavi Solutions.
In a statement, GSMA thanked its Chinese exhibitors, naming in particular ZTE and Huawei, for the preventative measures they have put in place, and confirmed that the event will still go ahead as planned from 24 February. The statement said: ‘While the GSMA confirm some large exhibitors have decided not to come to the show this year with others still contemplating next steps, we remain more than 2,800 exhibitors strong. The Catalan health system is prepared to detect and treat coronavirus, to give the most appropriate response, and this must be clear to those attending MWC Barcelona.’
In addition to all of the health and safety measures already in place, the Spanish health authorities, Host City Partners, other relevant agencies and the GSMA are collaborating, with the GSMA seeking to reassure attendees and exhibitors that their health and safety are of paramount concern, by implementing additional measures such as denying all travellers from the Hubei province access to the event. In addition, all travellers who have been in China will need to demonstrate proof they have been outside of China 14 days prior to the event, such as a passport stamp or health certificate, and temperature screening will be implemented. Attendees will also need to self-certify that they have not been in contact with anyone infected.
Speaking at a press conference on 7 February, Catalonia’s health minister Alba Vergés offered reassurance that the region is not a public health risk zone. He stated: ‘The Catalan health system is prepared to detect and treat coronavirus, to give the most appropriate response, and this must be clear to those attending MWC Barcelona.’
Similarly, the secretary of public health, Joan Guix outlined the measures that the Public Health Agency of Catalonia had put in place and that the Spanish Ministry of Health was in constant communication with all relevant bodies. These include the Directorate General of Tourism and Hotels, both public and private health centres, the Chinese consulate and with the GSMA.
At the same event, the head of the Service of Preventive Medicine and Epidemiology of the Hospital Clínic de Barcelona, Antoni Trilla said: ‘We are not in an exceptional situation and our health system is ready.’
On its decision to withdraw, Ericsson expressed appreciation that GSMA has done ‘everything it can to control the risk’. However, president and CEO Börje Ekholm noted that, as one of the largest exhibitors, Ericsson has thousands of visitors in its hall each day, so even if the risk is low, the company cannot guarantee the health and safety of its employees and visitors. He said: ‘The health and safety of our employees, customers and other stakeholders are our highest priority. This is not a decision we have taken lightly. We were looking forward to showcasing our latest innovations at MWC in Barcelona. It is very unfortunate, but we strongly believe the most responsible business decision is to withdraw our participation from this year’s event.’
Likewise, a statement from Nvidia said: ‘Given public health risks around the coronavirus, ensuring the safety of our colleagues, partners and customers is our highest concern. MWC Barcelona is one of the world’s most important technology conferences. We’ve been looking forward to sharing our work in AI, 5G and vRAN with the industry. We regret not attending, but believe this is the right decision. We’re grateful for GSMA’s leadership and continued efforts to ensure the safety of all attendees.’
Sony’s announcement detailed that the company had been closely monitoring the situation following the coronavirus outbreak. It said: ‘As we place the utmost importance on the safety and wellbeing of our customers, partners, media and employees, we have taken the difficult decision to withdraw from exhibiting and participating at MWC 2020 in Barcelona. Sony would like to thank everyone for their understanding and ongoing support during these challenging times.’
Viavi’s statement explained: ‘After reviewing all available data, Viavi has chosen to cancel participation in this year’s MWC Barcelona out of an abundance of caution and concern for our employees, customers and partners. Viavi remains excited about its powerful suite of 5G solutions. We will be contacting customers and other stakeholders that we intended to meet at the show to arrange alternative means to showcase our expanding RAN to Core portfolio to help network operators master and monetise the 5G opportunity.’
GSMA advised that it ‘strongly urges exhibitors and attendees to implement appropriate guidelines and protocols as suggested by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other health authorities to contain and mitigate against any further spread of the virus.’ The event organiser went on to say: ‘Health and safety of our exhibitors, attendees and staff are of paramount importance. While further planning is underway, we will continue to monitor the situation and will adapt our plans according to developments and advice we receive. We are contending with a constantly evolving situation, that will require fast adaptability.'