MWC 21 organisers keen on in-person event despite COVID-19 risk

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Last year, Mobile World Congress (MWC 20) was the first big international tech event to be cancelled over fears regarding COVID-19, with most other events following suit in 2020 as well. Organisers of the Congress, GSMA, have since moved their flagship MWC 21 in Barcelona to late June/early July this year, but for some reason are pushing to have it in-person despite the potential risks it serves as a super-spreader event.

In order to prepare for the Barcelona event at the middle of the year, GSMA’s MWC Shanghai happening next week, will serve as a testing ground for protocols and measures involving in-person activities.

Whether this is a wise move, is up for debate, but right now the plans look to make MWC 21 in-person again, albeit with a reduced capacity compared to previous years.

“Barcelona will be a little bit different, it is the big stage. Covid requirements will decrease our capacity. We’re not going to have 110,000 people, with travel restrictions, testing capacity and one-way traffic through the exhibition, there’s no way,” explains GSMA Limited CEO John Hoffman in an interview with Mobile World Live.

He adds that this year’s MWC 21 is expected to have roughly 40 000 to 50 000 attendees. Part of the protocols that the organisers plan to out in place, is attendees needing to provide a negative COVID-19 test 72 hours before they depart for Barcelona, but how feasible this will be given the admin and logistics involved with organising an overseas media trip, remains to be seen.

“Our view is it would be great if the world was vaccinated, but we can’t rely on that in 2021 so instead we’re relying on testing upfront to ensure our bubble isn’t just the Fira Gran Via but the whole of Barcelona,” says Hoffman.

With countries across the globe having their own approaches to handling the spread of COVID-19, as well as travel between their borders, it looks like GSMA is quite happy to take the risk of its event becoming a coronavirus superspreader.

How exhibitors feel at this stage, is unclear, but the likes of Huawei are already one of the main sponsors. Either way, we’ll need to see if other big tech events have a similar approach in 2021.

Robin-Leigh Chetty

Robin-Leigh Chetty

When he's not reviewing the latest smartphones, Robin-Leigh is writing about everything tech-related from IoT and smart cities, to 5G and cloud computing. He's also a keen photographer and dabbles in console games.

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