Coronavirus: Employers ‘quarantining’ own staff before trade show

Huawei staff at the 2019 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Photo: Alvarog1970 / Shutterstock

Some employers are quarantining their own staff ahead of international exhibitions as the coronavirus outbreak threatens to reduce visitor numbers.

Executives from Chinese telecoms giant Huawei will begin a minimum 14-day quarantine outside China before they attend the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Phone maker Oppo has confirmed similar plans.

Other companies have pulled out of the world’s largest telecom event altogether. South Korean electronics manufacturer LG and Swedish telecom manufacturer Ericsson have both said they are pulling out on health and safety grounds.

Ericsson said it appreciated that London-based organiser the Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA) had done everything it can to control the risk but that, as one of the largest exhibitors, Ericsson has thousands of visitors in its hall each day and the company cannot guarantee the health and safety of its employees and visitors.

Börje Ekholm, president and CEO at Ericsson, said: “The health and safety of our employees, customers and other stakeholders are our highest priority. This is not a decision we have taken lightly.

“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.”

China-based ZTE has cancelled its MWC press conference but has said it will still send a delegation to Barcelona.

Earlier this week Swatch Group cancelled its watch event in Zurich next month. “Considering the uncertainty related to the 2019-nCoV coronavirus outbreak, and in order to guarantee the welfare of our guests, partners and colleagues, Swatch Group has decided not to hold the Time to Move event.”

Technology industry analyst Dean Bubley told the BBC: “It must have been a hugely difficult decision, given the massive amount of time and thought that will have gone into Ericsson’s preparation.

“A lot of other vendors will be thinking hard now. Clearly some vendors will have spent a lot on preparation, although it’s hard to know how much booths, for example, will get recycled for other events, and whether flights and hotels are cancellable.”

The GSMA said it regretted but respected Ericsson’s decision not to attend. “Ericsson’s cancellation will have some impact on our presence at this time and will potentially have further impact.”

It said it was in contact with exhibitors and is discussing preparedness measures being put in place both by the GSMA and by exhibitors.

“It is reassuring to know that colleagues around the world are taking active measures to contain and lessen any further spread of the virus. These measures include not only adhering to advice from the WHO and other health authorities, by respecting travel restrictions where they exist but also by arriving early in Spain to allow time for self-quarantine, ensuring access to masks and replacing attendees from high-risk countries with local European-based colleagues and representatives,” read a statement.

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