Sony latest to withdraw from Barcelona conference over coronavirus fears

MADRID, Feb 10 (Reuters) - Sony Corp on Monday became the fifth company to pull out of this month’s international telecoms conference in Barcelona over fears related to the coronavirus.

The event, the Mobile World Congress - which attracts more than 100,000 visitors, is due to take place on Feb 24-27. Inc, South Korea’s LG Electronics , Swedish equipment maker Ericsson and U.S. chipmaker Nvidia have already said they will not attend the conference.

GSMA, the conference organiser, had no immediate comment.

Sony said its launch event for the conference would be held via video. “As we place the utmost importance on the safety and wellbeing of our customers, partners, media and employees, we have taken the difficult decision to withdraw from exhibiting and participating at MWC 2020 in Barcelona, Spain,” it said in a statement.

In a statement on Sunday GSMA had said no one from China’s Hubei province - where the coronavirus outbreak started - would be allowed to attend the conference, while visitors from China must prove they have been outside the country for at least two weeks prior to the event.

These measures add to earlier actions aimed at preventing the spread of the virus across the conference’s three main venues, including changing microphones between speakers and advising all attendees to adopt a “no-handshake policy”.

The death toll from the coronavirus outbreak in mainland China has risen to more than 900, with more than 40,000 people infected. More than two dozen countries are grappling with the virus, which has infected more than 330 people outside China.

Spain has just two cases confirmed on islands off the mainland.

In 2019, some 6% of Mobile World Congress attendees were from China, according to GSMA’s post-congress report. Most were from Europe, around 64%, as were about 45% of the exhibitors.

Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE have said they will attend, ordering China-based staff to self-isolate ahead of the event and drafting in European staff to cover for those not able to attend from China.

The GSMA estimates that the Mobile World Congress boosted the local Barcelona economy by around 470 million euros ($514.65 million) last year.

GSMA is an industry association representing more than 750 operators and 400 companies in the mobile business.

$1 = 0.9132 euros Reporting by Makiko Yamazaki, Douglas Busvine, writing by Ashifa Kassam. Editing by Jane Merriman