In less than four weeks, more than 100,000 wireless industry executives from around the world will descend upon Barcelona, Spain, for the annual MWC conference and exhibition. But in the wake of growing concerns over the spread of coronavirus, a deadly strain that originated in Wuhan, China, the GSMA is planning to increase its on-site medical staff before and during the conference as well as take other precautions.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed that at least 106 people have died from coronavirus so far, and there are more than 4,600 confirmed cases of the virus in mainland China. Nearly 60 million people are so far under partial or full lockdowns in Chinese cities to prevent the spread of the virus. More than 70 cases have been confirmed outside China, including at least five in the US.
The MWC show typically attracts a large contingent of attendees and exhibitors from China, including representatives from firms such as China Mobile, Huawei, ZTE and Xiaomi.
In a statement to Light Reading, the GSMA said that it plans to carefully follow recommendations from the WHO, the Chinese government, Spanish health authorities and all police recommendations and protocols. The association also said it will work with the Fira de Barcelona, which is the venue that hosts MWC, to make sure that there are sufficient sanitization products throughout all venues.
A GSMA spokeswoman noted the association's account managers and customer care team will support any exhibitors that may not be able to travel to MWC Barcelona because of coronavirus.
Equipment manufacturer Ericsson, which typically sends dozens of employees to Barcelona for MWC, said in a statement that it is closely monitoring the developments in China and is following the recommendations from authorities and other official sources such as the WHO on travel and hygiene.
Meanwhile, Qualcomm, another big exhibitor at MWC, is taking a different tactic. The company said in a tweet that it is donating $1 million to relief agencies in China to support efforts to combat coronavirus.
The WHO is recommending that Chinese authorities screen passengers at international airports and ports to prevent the disease from traveling outside the impacted areas. It is also encouraging screenings at railways and bus stations, if necessary.
In the US, the Center for Disease Control has designated the coronavirus as a serious public health threat because the virus has caused severe illness. On Monday the CDC recommended that travelers avoid all nonessential travel to China.
Indeed, the outbreak of the virus is going to impact the telecom sector directly through disruption of the supply chain as well as indirectly through the slowing of the global economy.
This isn't the first time the GSMA has had to deal with a potentially deadly virus outbreak. In 2003, the SARS outbreak started in early February just prior to the beginning of that year's MWC, which was held in Cannes, France. Health experts, however, say there are distinct differences between the two viruses. SARs had a shorter incubation period but more severe symptoms.
— Sue Marek, special to Light Reading. Follow her @suemarek.