Coronavirus effect on big tech events

As more companies are cancelling conferences, how will the show go on?

The novel coronavirus Covid-19 has taken the lives of 3,050 people as of Monday and infected more than 90,000 people worldwide. In the past week, the number of new cases of the virus outside of China, in the US, Italy, Iran, Japan and other countries, has been surging. This has led, as a result, to the wreck of the global tech industry, disrupting supply chains, shutting stores and closing factories.

In addition, most companies have limited travel to China, the epicentre of both the virus and global tech manufacturing, to only the necessary visits.

But the virus has also prompted major tech conferences around the world to cancel their annual events. In February, the organiser of Mobile World Congress decided to cancel the long anticipated event in Barcelona after companies such as Amazon, Sony, LG, NVIDIA and others said they would pull off of the show or limit participation.

Then, organisers of the international technology summit EmTech Asia also announced that the event, scheduled for 24-26 March in Singapore, had been postponed until August, and on 28 February, the Geneva Motor Show, one of the world's biggest car events, was cancelled, as well. Meanwhile, Google scrapped its News Initiative Summit, originally scheduled for April in California and Canadian e-commerce company Shopify cancelled its annual developer conference three months ahead of schedule. The Game Developers Conference, set to take place this month, was also postponed until the summer, in the same day Facebook announced it is calling off entirely its annual F8 developer conference - the company's biggest event of the year, which usually attracts thousands of attendees.

And it could just be the beginning since those cancellations bode darkly for a number of trade shows in coming months in case the outbreak continues into the spring. There is, for instance, the mother lode of developer shows for tech giants: Alphabet Inc. plans to host its Google Cloud Next conference 6-8 April in San Francisco, and Google I/O takes place in Mountain View, California, 12-14 May. So what do coronavirus concerns mean for the industry from now on?

Undoubtedly, the abandonment of shows as big as MWC or Geneva Motor Show, which draws more than 100,000 attendees annually, stings economically not only for the host city, but also for the tech industry and entrepreneurs from across the globe who attend those conferences in hopes of striking some good deals. Indeed, companies who poured money into setting up elaborate booths and paid fees to exhibit are also out of luck.

Most importantly, however, a hole in the tech conferences calendar hinders the development of new technology. This year's edition of MWC, for example, was expected to highlight new 5G phones from nearly every major Android manufacturer, as well as offer updates about the networks running the ultrafast connectivity and what it means for both consumers and enterprises. Now, the cancellation of those events are raising concerns about a slowdown in the spread of 5G.

And as fears mount that the coronavirus will become a pandemic, things might get even worse. Will the show go on? Or to be more precise - when? We can only hope for the panic to end soon.

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