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50K People Expected at MWC Tech Convention, But Maybe Not Americans

The organizers of Mobile World Congress, currently scheduled for late June in Barcelona, still say they expect to welcome up to 50,000 people, announcing ambitious health and safety measures today that assume a COVID breakout will not shut down the show.

The GSMA’s “Committed Community” plan, revealed first by Mobile World Live, involves every attendee being required to get a rapid COVID test every 72 hours, along with “contact tracing, touchless environments, revamped catering, occupancy monitoring, one-way traffic flows, upgrades to facility infrastructure and increased medical staff numbers.” Vaccines aren’t part of the plan.

The experience in the hall, it sounds like, won’t be like any trade show folks have experienced before. The GSMA will be sticking to “one-way traffic flow” through the convention center, doubling the number of entrances and exits, and monitoring the crowd with new camera systems to ensure social distancing.

If someone tests positive after wandering the halls and potentially interacting with hundreds of people, “the relevant contact tracing data will be shared with health authorities if needed to mitigate potential exposure further,” GSMA spokeswoman Lara Dewar said.

How a one-way traffic flow works when you have meetings in hall 3, then 7, then 5, is a little unclear to me, but more details will come in the following months, as “planning in a pandemic is complicated,” Dewar said.

Ericsson, Huawei, and AT&T initially told Light Reading that they’re all attending MWC, but Ericsson just backed out (for a little déjà vu). T-Mobile, Qualcomm, and Verizon didn’t respond to that publication’s queries when asked.

The GSMA recently ran a trade show in China, Mobile World Congress Shanghai, which attracted 25,000 attendees, according to the organization. However, MWCS attendees are traditionally heavily from China, a place with a much less severe COVID situation than Western Europe or the US right now.

Americans Banned From Spain, for Now

All of the GSMA’s plans will come to naught if people can’t get to Spain. Right now, Spain has near bans on travelers from the US and the UK, which the GSMA seems to be lobbying to lift.

“We are closely working with the government on current travel restrictions and visa requirements for essential business travel such as for MWC Barcelona,” Dewar said. “We believe the situation will continue to improve, but are not naïve. Not everyone will be able to get to MWC21.”

The CDC still advises against travel for Americans even if they’re fully vaccinated, Skift reports.

For those who can’t make it to the trade show, the organization will offer live streams, downloadable content, and virtual booth tours, Dewar said. The first two were in place for the earlier MWC Shanghai show, where some key presentations were streamed live. The virtual booth experience fell very flat at MWC Shanghai, though, as clicking on many key exhibitors just resulted in blank pages or links to the exhibitors’ everyday websites.

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