Organizers on Wednesday officially canceled Mobile World Congress, the world’s biggest cell phone show. After weeks of major companies pulling out of the Barcelona trade show due to fears about the coronavirus (COVID-19. as the World Health Organization, aka WHO, is now calling it), GSMA, the organization in charge of the show, has decided to cancel.
“With due regard to the safe and healthy environment in Barcelona and the host country today, the GSMA has canceled MWC Barcelona 2020 because the global concern regarding the coronavirus outbreak, travel concern, and other circumstances make it impossible for the GSMA to hold the event,” GSMA CEO John Hoffman wrote in a statement.
MWC is the mobile industry’s most important trade show, with 2,800 businesses originally scheduled to attend this year’s event. It’s where companies like LG, Huawei, Samsung, and more go to show off their latest devices and innovative software. Since 2006, the event has been held in Barcelona. As speculation grew about a potential cancellation, both the GSMA and the city of Barcelona publicly tried to assuage concerns.
On Wednesday, however, Wired reported that the GSMA was lobbying the city to declare a health emergency so they could cancel the event without incurring significant fees. Depending on what insurance policy the show had, for example, a public health emergency might have allowed them to recoup losses.
Barcelona officials remained optimistic that the show would go on, and for good reason: Spanish newspaper El Pais notes that MWC accounts for 14,000 temporary jobs and an economic impact of 492 million euros ($ 535 million U.S.).
There are currently more than 43,000 reported cases of coronavirus, the vast majority in China. Given the significant number of Chinese exhibitors and attendees (5,000 to 6,000 according to GSMA), and the confusion about how easily the disease can spread, big companies like Samsung and Sony had been scaling back their MWC showings or withdrawing entirely.
Health organizations are still racing to develop vaccines and treatments for the disease, as well as trying to figure out where it originated. The WHO’s most recent situation report explains that bats are often carriers of coronaviruses, “However, the route of transmission to humans at the start of this event remains unclear,” it said.
This is a breaking story, and will be updated with more information as it becomes available.