No handshakes at meet and greet? Tech show adapts to virus

Full Screen
1 / 2

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

FILE - In this Oct. 31, 2019, file photo, attendees walk past a display for 5G services from Chinese technology firm Huawei at the PT Expo in Beijing. Chinese smartphone brand Huawei says it will attend the industrys biggest global event this month in Barcelona while more companies reported losses due to Chinas efforts to contain a disease outbreak. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File)

LONDON – A major European technology trade fair has a low-tech idea for reducing virus risks: go hands-free.

Organizers of this month's Mobile World Congress show are advising attendees to adopt a no-handshake policy, threatening to dampen visiting executives' ability to meet and schmooze customers. Show organizers also plan to step up cleaning and disinfecting and make sure speakers don't use the same microphone. Some companies, meanwhile, are pulling out or scaling back plans.

MWC is an important networking and lobbying opportunity for mobile industry executives and government officials from around the world. It's the world's biggest wireless industry trade fair, held in Barcelona, Spain, on the other side of the globe from the virus outbreak's Chinese epicenter.

More than 100,000 people were expected to attend this year, with about 6% from China. The coronavirus has now infected more than 31,400 people globally and killed more than 630, most of them in China.

The latest turmoil for MWC came Friday when Sweden's Ericsson, a major supplier of telecom infrastructure gear, said it was pulling out of the Feb. 24-27 event because it feared the health and safety of employees and customers “cannot be ensured.” While there's little sign of a mass exodus in the works, the departure of Ericsson is a blow to the show because it's one of the biggest exhibitors.

South Korean tech company LG also withdrew earlier in the week.

Other companies are adjusting or scaling back their plans to adapt to travel and quarantine measures. The Chinese tech giant Huawei, a major sponsor, is assigning European staff to the show. Eric Xu, serving a six-month term as rotating chairman, is scheduled to hold a media briefing by video because he's unable to get to Spain with enough time to undergo the two-week self-quarantine period.

Jean-Baptiste Su, principal analyst at Atherton Research in San Jose, California, said he's decided not to attend because of virus worries.