Coronavirus: LG pulls out of Mobile World Congress

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LG had a prominent booth at MWC last yearImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
LG had a prominent booth at MWC last year

LG has pulled out of one of the world's biggest tech shows citing fears over the spread of coronavirus.

The South Korean tech firm has cancelled its appearance at Mobile World Congress (MWC), which is held every year in Barcelona.

MWC opens on 24 Feb and is the world's largest mobile-focused tech expo.

China's ZTE has also dropped plans for a press conference at the event due to the illness, but it will still host a stand.

Separately, Sony has said coronavirus could negatively affect production in its factories, which make components for Apple and Huawei products.

Telecommunications trade body the GSMA, MWC's organisers, said of the virus yesterday: "There is minimal impact on the event thus far". However, within hours, LG announced it was pulling out.

"With the safety of its employees and general public foremost in mind, LG has decided to withdraw from exhibiting and participating in MWC 2020 later this month in Barcelona, Spain," LG said in a statement.

"This decision will prevent needlessly exposing hundreds of LG employees to international travel, which most health experts have advised."

The firm added that it would hold "separate events in the near future" instead.

"You have to say it's probably an entirely sensible response given the situation," said Simon Forrest, tech analyst at Futuresource.

To date, there has been just one confirmed case of coronavirus in Spain.

No handshakes

"We have spoken to LG and regret not seeing them at this year's MWC20 Barcelona," a spokeswoman for the GSMA said.

She added that MWC was still due to proceed as planned.

Previously, the GSMA organisation said it had taken extra precautions for this year's conference, including putting in place a "no-handshake policy", as well as increased cleaning and disinfection, and the provision of more sanitising materials for public use.

"They have to be taking this seriously," said Mr Forrest, who is currently planning to attend MWC himself.

There was confusion after multiple tech sites reported that Chinese tech firm ZTE had followed LG and also pulled out of MWC.

Image source, ZTE
Image caption,
ZTE has hosted MWC press conferences in past years to launch new phones

Spanish newspapers El Pais and La Vangardia said ZTE told them it would not host a press conference that had originally been scheduled for 25 February.

ZTE then published a statement saying that the firm's appearance at MWC would go ahead "as planned"

A spokeswoman told the BBC: "The handset launch event is cancelled - but the product will be demonstrated at the booth.

"There is no other change, no other cancellations."

A spokeswoman at the GSMA appeared to be unaware of ZTE's press conference decision, and denied that it had been cancelled.

There have been more than 24,000 cases of coronavirus in China to date but only a handful of cases - by comparison - elsewhere in the world. Globally, nearly 500 people have now died because of the virus.

The UK Foreign Office has advised all British citizens to leave China if they can.

Virus versus sales

Hon Hai, the Chinese manufacturer which produces iPhones for Apple, has cut its sales forecast for the year, thanks to the spread of coronavirus.

This is because the virus may affect supply chains in Asia, where factories make components and hardware for tech firms around the world.

Hon Hai's chairman told Bloomberg that he expected sales growth between 1% and 3%, rather than a previously projected 3-5%.

And Sony, which also produces components for Apple and other tech firms, including Huawei, told investors on an earnings call that coronavirus may also affect its production lines for image sensors.

Although the firm raised its overall revenue outlook for the year, chief financial officer Hiroki Totoki said: "We cannot deny that our production and sales supply chain for the image sensor and electronics business could be affected enormously."

Learn more about the new virus

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The BBC's online health editor on what we know about the virus