BT follows Nokia in withdrawing from Mobile World Congress

BT has followed Nokia in joining the growing list of technology companies to withdraw from the Mobile World Congress (MWC) showcase because of ongoing concerns over the coronavirus outbreak.

Due to take place at the end of the month in Barcelona, the annual MWC attracts more than 100,000 visitors, but tech firms including Amazon, LG, Sony, Intel and Facebook have also withdrawn.

In addition to Nokia’s telecoms business, HMD Global, the firm which makes its mobile handsets, has also confirmed it would not attend.

BT said withdrawing from the event was the “most responsible decision” it could make.

“After careful discussions and planning, BT has decided that we will not attend GSMA Mobile World Congress Barcelona 2020,” the company said in a statement.

“We value our participation in important industry groups like GSMA and deeply respect the steps they have already taken to protect attendees.

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

The event’s organisers, GSMA, said earlier this week the conference – which would normally showcase a range of new product and feature announcements – would go ahead as planned.

The organisers have not commented on the latest round of dropouts.

Earlier on Wednesday, Nokia said it would be “prudent” for the company to withdraw from the trade show to ensure the safety of its staff.

“Nokia has been carefully monitoring the situation following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, with the goal of making a fact-based decision related to our attendance at Mobile World Congress in 2020,” the company said.

“While the health and safety of our employees is our absolute priority, we also recognise that we have a responsibility to the industry and our customers.

“In view of this, we have taken the necessary time to evaluate a fast-moving situation, engage with the GSMA and other stakeholders, regularly consult external experts and authorities, and plan to manage risks based on a wide range of scenarios.

“The conclusion of that process is that we believe the prudent decision is to cancel our participation at Mobile World Congress.

“We want to express our thanks to the GSMA, the governments of China and Spain as well as Catalonia’s Generalitat, and many others who have worked tirelessly to address the challenges resulting from the novel coronavirus, and they have our full support as they move forward.”

The company said it would instead hold a number of smaller events to make announcements it had planned for the MWC.

In its own statement, HMD Global said: “After much deliberation, and following recommendations from the relevant health authorities, we have decided to withdraw from exhibiting and participating at MWC Barcelona 2020.

“MWC Barcelona has always been a key event in our annual calendar and we were very excited to showcase our new products to our partners, customers, media and fans. However, the health and safety of our employees, customers and stakeholders is our highest priority.”

GSMA has introduced a number of new safety measures to prevent the spread of the strain of coronavirus, officially named Covid-19 by the World Health Organisation.

MWC has banned attendees from the Chinese province of Hubei – where the strain Covid-19 is thought to have originated – and anyone who has recently been to China will be asked to confirm that they have been outside the country for 14 days prior to the show.

Organisers have also confirmed that temperature screening will be in place and it is encouraging those attending to adopt a “no-handshake” policy.

As of Wednesday morning, the total number of cases of Covid-19 was around 45,000 globally, with the number of deaths in mainland China reaching 1,113.