Coronavirus prompts Sony, NTT and Intel to join Barcelona congress exodus

BARCELONA (Reuters) - Japanese wireless carrier NTT Docomo 9437.T, Sony Corp 6758.T and California-based chip giant Intel Corp INTC.O pulled out of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona on Monday because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Amazon AMZN.O, South Korea's LG Electronics 066570.KS, Swedish equipment maker Ericsson ERICb.ST and U.S. chipmaker Nvidia NVDA.O have already withdrawn from MWC, which had more than 100,000 visitors and upwards of 2,400 exhibitors in 2019.

MWC, due to take place on Feb 24-27, is the telecom industry’s biggest annual gathering, with companies spending millions on stands and hospitality to fill their order books.

Barcelona’s economy got a boost of around 470 million euros ($515 million) last year from the event, its organizer the GSMA estimated. The GSMA had no immediate comment.

Gremi d’Hotels de Barcelona, the city’s main hotels association, said coronavirus concerns had resulted in cancellations but it was too early to quantify the impact on overall bookings.

And the region’s digital policy councilor, Jordi Puignero, told local radio station RAC1 the Catalan regional government was “taking measures so that everything proceeds as normal”.

“There is no reason to not attend,” he added.

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Sources close to exhibitors said that if participants cancel, they would have to bear the cost. The GSMA, an industry association representing more than 750 operators and 400 companies, would only be liable if it calls off the event.

Sony and NTT said in statements they had withdrawn after taking into consideration the safety of customers, partners and staff. Sony said its launch event would be held via video.

NTT did not immediately confirm whether its chief executive, Kazuhiro Yoshizawa, would continue as a panel speaker.

U.S.-Israeli software provider Amdocs DOX.O also pulled out of the event on Monday.

“While we appreciate the precautionary measures put into place by the (organizer) GSMA, we believe the safest option is not to attend MWC 2020 in Barcelona,” Amdocs’ CEO Shuky Sheffer said in a statement.

Chinese electronics company TCL said it was cancelling a press event but would still attend MWC and showcase new devices, while Norway's Telenor TEL.OL said it was planning to cut the number of staff attending as well as reducing its program.

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GSMA said on Sunday that no-one from China’s Hubei province, where the coronavirus outbreak began, would be allowed to attend, while visitors from China must prove they have been outside the country for at least two weeks prior to the event.

These measures add to earlier actions aimed at preventing the spread of the virus, including changing microphones between speakers and advising all attendees not to shake hands.

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The death toll from coronavirus in mainland China has risen above 900, with more than 40,000 people infected. More than two dozen countries are grappling with the virus, which has infected more than 330 people outside China.

In 2019, some 6% of Mobile World Congress attendees were from China, GSMA’s post-congress report showed. Most were from Europe, around 64%, as were about 45% of the exhibitors.

China’s Huawei and ZTE have said they will attend, ordering China-based staff to self-isolate ahead of MWC and drafting in European staff to cover for those not able to attend from China.

Reporting by Makiko Yamazaki, Douglas Busvine and Joan Faus, Additional reporting by Gwladys Fouche in Oslo and Mekhla Raina in Bengaluru; Writing by Ashifa Kassam; Editing by Alexander Smith and Clarence Fernandez