Mobile World Congress, among the industry's biggest annual jamborees, is taking an almighty gamble to return with a physical conference this June in Barcelona -- even as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to rage globally.
Organisers say they will demand proof of a recent negative Covid-19 test, and mitigate risk by controlling crowd density, stand capacity, and traffic flow at the event, which was cancelled in February 2020 just 12 days ahead of its launch, as organisers GSMA continued to hold out hope that they could make it happen. (In 2019 the event drew over 109,000 to Barcelona.)
GSMA represents the interests of more than 750 mobile operators and nearly 400 companies in the broader mobile ecosystem, including handset and device makers, software companies, and equipment providers.
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The GSMA maintains on its MWC 2021 page that it will be "controlling crowd density, stand capacity and traffic flow at MWC Barcelona. Social distancing consistent with local guidelines, currently a minimum of 1.5m, will be in force. All event spaces will ensure a crowd density of no less than 2.5m 2 per person. Exhibitors must observe strict stand capacity, flow requirements and stand design adjustments."
A spokesperson told The Stack: "MWC21 is taking place on 28 June to 1 July 2021 in Barcelona, and we are planning boldly but cautiously for an in-person event. The GSMA continues to monitor global circumstances, seeking expert advice and collaborating as information emerges in this dynamic situation.
They added: "All attendees will be required to provide proof of a recent, negative Covid test. As many airports and airlines are implementing similar policies, we are confident that attendees will be more than willing to comply. Testing, at a separate venue, will also be offered to all attendees. We are working closely with the public health authorities to ensure this testing is administered in compliance with medical and other regulations."
Protective face masks will also be mandatory, with touchless entry, information, and registration points.
Whether this will prove enough to entice both attendees and exhibitors back at scale remains an open question, although GSMA is clearly optimistic that global vaccination progress will have made sufficient progress by the summer to make the event a success. (The organisation in April extended its relationship with the city of Barcelona through to 2024, saying it is "incredibly optimistic about the future".)
Spain has seen 51,874 deaths from Covid, with over two million cases reported. Some 8,800 have been in Barcelona's Catalonia region. On January 8, 2021, the Spanish government warned of “difficult weeks ahead” as coronavirus cases in the country continue to rise: “The data is bad. The incidence rate, the pressure on hospitals, the positivity rate of PCR tests and the number of deaths are rising. The evolution of the pandemic is worsening,” said Health Minister Salvador Illa at a press conference, as reported by El Pais.