MADRID/PARIS/BERLIN - Organizers of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) will decide on Wednesday whether to cancel the event, two sources said, after several major European telecom companies pulled out due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Deutsche Telekom, Orange and BT ditched the event, along with Finnish network equipment maker Nokia, according to sources and official statements, leaving the Barcelona event without some of its main backers.
The GSMA industry association that organizes the conference was due to hold a 'virtual' meeting of its board, consisting of 25 industry bosses, at 1300 GMT to discuss its options, according to three people with knowledge of the matter.
"They have to cancel," said a source with one exhibitor that has decided to pull out.
The telecom industry's biggest get together, scheduled for Feb. 24-27, typically draws more than 100,000 visitors to Barcelona. By the GSMA's own estimate it gives a lift of around half a billion dollars to the local economy.
The GSMA has been silent since saying last Sunday it planned to go ahead with the event, while tightening health precautions to guard against the coronavirus that has killed more than 1,000 people in China since breaking out last month.
A source close to the organization said it was preparing a statement.
Barcelona's city authorities and the Spanish government have repeatedly stated that it would be safe for travelers to attend. The coronavirus has caused fatalities in around 2 percent of reported cases from pneumonia or multiple organ failure.
That failed, however, to alleviate concerns among other exhibitors that the precautions would be insufficient to halt the virus that has spread beyond China's borders to two dozen countries.
In a statement, Nokia said it believed it was a "prudent decision" to cancel its participation.
"Nokia plans to go directly to customers with a series of “Nokia Live” events aimed at showcasing the industry-leading demos and launches scheduled for MWC," the Finnish company said in a statement, setting out its alternative plans.
MOBILE CHINA CONGRESS?
Major Chinese exhibitors, led by Huawei, had vowed to attend, ordering at-risk staff to isolate themselves and drafting in replacements from elsewhere to staff event stands and network with clients.
The GSMA had banned attendees from China's Hubei province, where the coronavirus outbreak began, and required others to prove that they had been outside the country for at least two weeks prior to the event.
Coronavirus has proved to be contagious even when people who have caught it are asymptomatic, meaning that people attending the MWC might not even realize that they could infect others they meet there.
Reconstructing meetings and movements across the Fira trade grounds and the city of Barcelona of anyone who later tests positive would be a difficult task.
In China, total infections have hit 44,653, health officials said, including 2,015 new confirmed cases. The number of deaths on the mainland rose by 97 to 1,113 by the end of Tuesday. (Writing by Douglas Busvine; Additional reporting by Supantha Mukherjee, Tarmo Virki, Joan Faus, Can Sezer; editing by Keith Weir and Elaine Hardcastle)