By Sarah Krouse and Elizabeth Koh 

Fears over the fast-spreading coronavirus are prompting global companies to cancel plans for major industry gatherings, as executives weigh the risks and rewards of sending employees to conferences that draw attendees from around the world.

A growing roster of telecommunications and technology companies have decided not to attend the MWC Barcelona conference slated for later this month. AT&T Inc., Amazon.com Inc., Cisco Systems Inc., Intel Corp. and Sony Corp. are among the latest that have said they won't send company delegates to the annual gathering, which draws more than 100,000 people.

The Singapore Airshow, a biennial aerospace gathering that typically hosts top executives from major plane makers and suppliers, opened this week with muted attendance because of virus concerns. Boeing Co. scaled back its presence and defense contractors Lockheed Martin Corp. and Raytheon Co. skipped the gathering.

And watchmaker Swatch Group AG has canceled plans for an annual trade event in Zurich in early March, which it uses to present new luxury-watch models. It will host regional events instead.

Scientists and public-health officials globally are racing to learn more about the virus, which has become an epidemic in China that has infected more than 42,000 people, killed more than 1,000 and overwhelmed hospitals in the country.

The Barcelona trade show, previously known as Mobile World Congress, is typically an opportunity for carriers, equipment makers and government officials globally to meet their foreign counterparts and showcase their latest devices and technology. This year's event, which is scheduled to begin Feb. 24, comes as carriers around the world race to roll out faster 5G networks.

Ericsson AB of Sweden said Friday it was withdrawing from the event and LG Electronics of South Korea last week was among the first to say it wouldn't send representatives, to prevent "needlessly exposing hundreds of LG employees to international travel."

Show attendees typically pack a sprawling Barcelona convention center speckled with booths bearing the logos of telecommunications and equipment giants. Last year's conference was dominated by China's Huawei Technologies Co., with a sizable booth on the exhibition floor. Huawei's lotus logo also has adorned attendee name-tag lanyards in recent years.

The event's organizer, mobile-carrier trade group GSMA, said Sunday that visitors from China would have to prove via passport stamp or a health certificate that they have been outside of the country for 14 days. GSMA also said last week that it was important to convene industry members and global policy makers "at this critical time where connectivity is on the cusp of a new industrial revolution."

The industry group said it will provide temperature screening and disinfectant stations. Some attendees plan to arrive early in Spain to allow time to self-quarantine and replace staff from high-risk locations with employees from Europe, it added.

Qualcomm Inc., Nokia Corp. and Samsung Electronics Co. said they are still considering whether to attend.

Samsung, which launched the next models of its flagship Galaxy devices in San Francisco on Tuesday, had already intended to limit its presence at the Barcelona event. At its own event, Samsung had signs urging attendees to reduce their risk of coronavirus infection and cautioning that medical screenings would be conducted. Several people at the event accepted masks that were provided near the entrance.

A spokesman for Samsung said the company is continuing to monitor the situation to determine the extent of its participation in Barcelona and likely to reach a final verdict around the end of the week. It hasn't implemented companywide operating changes, but some individual facilities are limiting visitors' access and taking other precautions.

InterDigital Inc, a mobile and video technology research-and-development company, and Amdocs Ltd., a provider of software and services to communications and media companies, said earlier this week that their employees wouldn't attend MWC.

--Cristina Roca and Robert Wall contributed to this article.

Write to Sarah Krouse at sarah.krouse@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

February 11, 2020 15:57 ET (20:57 GMT)

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