Major U.S. tech firms pull out of Barcelona meet over coronavirus fears

(Reuters) - Cisco Systems Inc CSCO.O, Facebook Inc FB.O, AT&T T.N and Sprint Corp S.N on Tuesday became the latest U.S. technology companies to pull out of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona due to the coronavirus outbreak.

FILE PHOTO: The Logo of MWC20 (Mobile World Congress) is pictured in Barcelona, Spain February 10, 2020. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

A number of companies ranging from Japan's NTT Docomo 9437.T and Sony Corp 6758.T to U.S. chipmakers Intel Corp INTC.O and Nvidia NVDA.O have already dropped out of the four-day international telecoms conference that draws in more than 100,000 visitors.

“While we are extremely disappointed that we cannot continue with this event as planned, we believe this is the right decision given the current circumstances,” a Cisco spokeswoman said.

The virus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has so far killed more than 1,000 people, while spreading to at least 24 countries prompting many companies to restrict travel to and from China.

MWC, set to kick off on Feb. 24, is the telecom industry’s biggest annual gathering, with companies spending millions on stands and hospitality to fill their order books.

GSMA, the organizer of the event, did not immediately respond to Reuters request for comment.

A industry source told Reuters that GSMA will hold a board meeting on Friday to discuss possible cancellation of MWC.

The organizer said on Sunday participants from China’s Hubei province, where the coronavirus outbreak began, would not be allowed to attend the event and that visitors from China must prove they have been outside the country for at least two weeks prior to the event.

“We value our participation in important industry groups like GSMA and deeply respect the steps they have already taken to protect attendees,” an AT&T spokeswoman said.

“Unfortunately, the most responsible decision is to withdraw our participation from the event to safeguard our employees and customers,” she said.

The event is important to Barcelona, whose economy got a boost of around 470 million euros ($515 million) last year from the conference, according to GSMA.

“We are more prepared than ever,” said Catalan regional health councillor, Alba Verges, to local channel TV3. She added that, from a public health point of view, there is no “objective cause” for the companies to be afraid of attending.

Chinese companies, including Huawei, ZTE 000063.SZ, Oppo and Xiaomi 1810.HK, are still attending the event. Inc AMZN.O, LG Electronics 066570.KS, Ericsson ERICb.ST and McAfee have also withdrawn from exhibiting and participating in the conference.

Reporting by Supantha Mukherjee in Bengaluru, Joan Faus in Madrid and Mathieu Rosemain in Paris; Editing by Shailesh Kuber