We shouldn’t panic about the corona virus. But that doesn’t mean we have to take the risk of bringing together tens of thousands of business people from all over the world, says Fabian Schmidt.

The cancellation of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona is not an irrational overreaction to the threat posed by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), but is quite responsible.

The fair attracts around 100,000 exhibitors and visitors from all over the world every year. In addition, there is the staff for the organization of the huge event. A large number of the exhibitors come from China because the country is now the world market leader in the manufacture of telephone and communication components, as well as in the area of ​​operating systems and apps.

And if a large number of exhibitors from the most important manufacturer country are already retreating, the organizer can also think about safety. In view of the current global health emergency, a complete cancellation is definitely the more responsible solution. 

The journey is more dangerous than the fair

To speed up the spread of such an epidemic, there is nothing more effective than international mega-events. Almost all participants travel by plane from afar. With 300 to 500 other passengers each, they are locked in a tube for many hours.

DW science editor Fabian SchmidtDW science editor Fabian Schmidt

And there are also plenty of opportunities for the spread of highly infectious viruses: handles on trains and buses, ticket machines, luggage trolleys, door handles in taxis, the buffet in the breakfast room of large hotels or the elevator. The risk that such masses of people open the way for the corona virus into the big wide world is simply not controllable.

Should the carnival be canceled?

No, because the MWC is not to be compared with the carnival: Although tourists always come from afar to the carnival, for example in Rio, New Orleans or in the German Rhineland, at the core it is still local cultural events, albeit with hundreds of thousands or even millions of participants. But unlike large international trade fairs, they are less effective than global distribution nodes for dangerous viruses.

Nevertheless, the participants are advised to exercise caution here as well: avoid the tightest crowds, wash your hands regularly and maybe not kiss everyone. And those who have cold symptoms should be in bed and not on the street.

The many smaller trade fairs, which are more interesting for regional exhibitors, do not pose such a high risk of dissemination and are harmless if you exercise caution.

And what about the flu?

“Then we would have to cancel the major international trade fairs with every flu wave,” someone could reply. At first glance, this also seems plausible: The flu can be extremely dangerous, as humanity experienced painfully in the final phase and immediately after the First World War: In a few months, more people died from the Spanish flu than from the whole war.

But the comparison between the current coronavirus epidemic and the flu lags. The flu is a well-known, well-researched virus. You can get vaccinated against it. And the annual flu wave cannot be contained by quarantine measures. The disease can occur anywhere at any time.

Historically unique quarantine policy

The situation is different with the current coronavirus epidemic. It is still geographically restricted, with a few outliers, but which are kept under control by quarantine. Maybe a pandemic can still be avoided. After all, after initially looking away, China is now pursuing a historically unique repressive quarantine policy. It is too early to assume that it does not work.

And there is not yet a great deal of experience with the new virus: can it cause long-term consequences? What is the number of unreported cases of infected people with a mild course of the disease? How Low is Mortality Really?

Before these questions are finally answered, only one thing can be the right answer: it is better to be on the safe side and to skip one or the other major event. Because once the viruses are actually gone, they can no longer be caught.


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