For many of us, this past week was a surprise that MWC2020 telecoms biggest tech show of the year could be canceled just one week before the event was to begin. Much has been said both by me and others on whether it was fear driven or a prudent step by GSMA to pull the plug on the event. Arguably the GSMA had its hand forced as major exhibitors started withdrawing a week before GSMA canceled the show. The larger question is what impact will COVID-19 have on the economy and business travel over the next year.

What we know is that 99% of the cases are in China, 67,000 cases worldwide, 1,500 deaths, the speed or sustained transmission of COVID-19 is greater than the flu but less than measles, the mortality rate is 2%, and a deployable vaccine is about a year away. Health officials are containing the virus by isolation and tracing but don’t know how far it can travel airborne. The data up to now coming out of China is suspect as their methods for tracking and reporting don’t meet the WHO guidelines.

Any companies where their manufacturing base is in China will be impacted by COVID-19. This includes Cisco, Dell, HPE, LG, Apple, and many other companies dependent on China for electronic components, consumer products, and pharmaceuticals. For Chinese workers that traveled for Lunar New Year break getting back to work will be more of a challenge.

Most workers come from inland provinces and will face challenges returning to work with disruptions in the transport system and cities in China imposing quarantines. The other problem is that many plants have as much as 10,000 people in close quarters working on assembly lines. Semi-skilled laborers will pass products along at each stage of the production process. How do you prevent the spread of COVID-19 working in close quarters? Any outbreak will spread quickly and scuttle the manufacturing facility. The unknown for now is when production will resume at its normal pace.

For most of us that have jobs that requires travel internationally to conduct business, COVID-19 will disrupt sales, marketing, and business development activities. Expect to see more tech conferences canceled in the future. In the U.S. the RSA conference in San Francisco could unwind as fast as MWC2020. IBM has already withdrawn from the largest IT security event of the year. The impact for Asia based conferences and travel will be greater but it could quickly spread to Europe and the rest of the world.

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