Ericsson withdraws from MWC 2020 over coronavirus fears

The Swedish telecoms company follows in the footsteps of LG in deciding not to put the health of employees at risk.

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
2 min read

Ericsson has pulled out of the world's largest mobile show.

Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Swedish telecoms giant Ericsson is the latest company to pull out of MWC in Barcelona later this month over coronavirus fears. The company said in a press release on Friday that the demos and content created for the show would instead be shown at local "Ericsson Unboxed" events at a later date.

"The health and safety of our employees, customers and other stakeholders are our highest priority," said President and CEO of Ericsson Börje Ekholm in a statement. "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."

Declared a public health emergency by the World Health Organization, coronavirus is a pneumonia-like illness that, as of Feb. 6, has killed 638 people. The virus was first detected in Wuhan, China, in December, and has spread to 25 other countries with a recent count of 20,000 confirmed cases. In addition to its health risks, the coronavirus has had a ripple effect on businesses and global industries. Companies including Apple, Google and Nintendo have closed offices, limited business travel and experienced supply chain disruptions.

Ericsson is the second company in the course of a week to withdraw from the world's largest mobile show, which is held annually at the end of February. On Tuesday, South Korean phone maker LG said it would not be attending the event this year, also citing concerns about the coronavirus. Chinese phone manufacturer ZTE canceled its press conference at the show, but said that other activities would go ahead as planned.

ZTE also said that it's taking precautions in light of the coronavirus outbreak including quarantining all staff from mainland China for two weeks ahead of the Barcelona conference. Senior executives involved in high-level meetings will spend those two weeks of isolation in Europe, while the rest will be quarantined before traveling.

The GSMA, the organization which runs MWC, has put a number of measures in place to control the risks posed by the disease, including a no-handshake policy. Ericsson said it appreciated everything the GSMA had done to protect the health of visitors and exhibitors at the show, but with thousands of people passing through its stand every day, it couldn't guarantee the health and safety of its employees and visitors.

"The GSMA regret to see Ericsson's decision not to attend MWC Barcelona this year as they are an important player in our ecosystem," the organization said in a statement. "We respect their decision and are reassured by their commitment that they will be at MWC Barcelona 2021 in full force and our rebook trends for next year's event remain high. Ericsson's cancellation will have some impact on our presence at this time and will potentially have further impact."

Originally published at 3:29 a.m. PT.
Updated at 5:07 a.m. PT: Added statement from the GSMA.

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