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Amazon, Sony and Ericsson pull out of Mobile World Congress over coronavirus fears

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The world's largest mobile event is losing some of its biggest names.

Amazon, Ericsson and Sony are withdrawing from this year's Mobile World Congress because of the risk that attendees could catch the coronavirus that originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

The event, scheduled to take place in Barcelona from February 24-27, is one of the tech industry's most important annual gatherings. It typically draws more than 100,000 attendees and over 2,400 companies, including the sector's biggest players who use it to launch new products and showcase their latest innovations.

But this year it will be missing some of its headline exhibitors including Amazon, one of the world's handful of $1 trillion companies, in yet another example of the impact that the coronavirus outbreak is having on businesses globally.

"Due to the outbreak and continued concerns about novel coronavirus, Amazon will withdraw from exhibiting and participating in Mobile World Congress 2020," the company said in a statement. Amazon's cloud computing arm, Amazon Web Services, was due to host a dozen sessions covering topics such as 5G connectivity and artificial intelligence.

The summit will go ahead as planned, event organizer and mobile operator lobbying group GSMA said in a statement, but it will be restricting access for visitors from China. Despite the withdrawal of "some large exhibitors ... we remain more than 2,800 exhibitors strong," it said.

The association said it would carry out temperature screening and increased cleaning of "high-volume touchpoints," such as catering areas, bathrooms, speaker microphones, handrails and public touch screens. It said it would double medical support at the venue and won't admit anyone who has been in China during the two weeks prior to the event.

The coronavirus outbreak has already led to a number of sporting events in Asia being canceled, postponed or relocated. Art Basel Hong Kong, scheduled for mid March, has also been canceled.

This year's Mobile World Congress comes as countries in Europe and elsewhere prepare to roll out 5G wireless technology amid an intense debate over the role that China's Huawei should play in building the super-fast networks.

The United States has been pressuring allies to drop Huawei as a supplier over national security concerns; Huawei denies that its products pose a risk. A spokesperson for Huawei confirmed that the company will attend the conference as planned.

Ericsson is one of Huawei's few rivals in the supply of telecoms network equipment and will be giving up an important opportunity to promote its products in Barcelona.

"Ericsson appreciates that GSMA have done everything they can to control the risk. However, as one of the largest exhibitors, Ericsson has thousands of visitors in its hall each day and even if the risk is low, the company cannot guarantee the health and safety of its employees and visitors," the company said.

It said it will host events in its customers' home markets to showcase the demos and content that it had created for Mobile World Congress.

Sony said its press conference will now take place on YouTube.

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