More tech conferences have been canceled and major tech companies have restricted employee travel as the coronavirus continues to spread across the globe.
The last major conference to be postponed or canceled because of COVID-19 is the Game Developers Conference scheduled to begin in San Francisco on March 16. Questions around whether the event would go ahead were first raised Feb. 20 when both Facebook Inc. and Sony Corp.
Organizers, however, kept claiming that the event would proceed before a flood of cancellations for the event, including Electronic Arts Inc., Activision Blizzard Inc., Unity Technologies Inc. and Epic Games Inc. gave them no choice.
“After close consultation with our partners in the game development industry and community around the world, we’ve made the difficult decision to postpone the Game Developers Conference this March,” conference organizers said an update Feb. 28. The event may return in the summer.
The GDC is unlikely to be the last conference to disappear. The GSM Association’s annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona was nixed Feb. 12 after dozens of exhibitors had canceled their plans to attend. Fortinet Inc.’s annual Accelerate 2020 conference also scheduled for Barcelona was canceled at around the same time. Facebook was next in line, canceling its Global Marketing Conference scheduled for March 9-12 in San Francisco and its F8 developers conference scheduled for May 5-6 in San Jose as well.
Also joining events that have been dropped are the Intel Labs Day, originally scheduled for March 12-13 in the San Francisco Bay Area; the Google News Initiative Summit scheduled for Sunnyvale late April; Black Hat Asia scheduled for March 31-April 3 in Singapore; Salesforce World Sydney March 4 (now an online-only event); Cisco Live Melbourne March 3-6; and Shopify Unite scheduled May 6-8 in Toronto.
Although not strictly a tech conference, the annual South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, that is popular as a debut stage for tech startups scheduled to start March 13, is still going ahead as of now, though more than 10,000 people have signed a petition calling for it to be canceled. Organizers said in a statement Friday that they were taking precautions in line with World Health Organization guidelines but so too did the organizers of MWC and GDC before being forced to scrap their events.
Whether events such as SxSW proceed or not may prove academic when it comes to the tech industry, however, as leading companies are now imposing travel bans on employees.
Amazon.com Inc. leads the pack, banning employees from all nonessential travel both internationally and within the U.S. until at least April. Amazon had previously restricted employees’ travel to mainland China.
Google LLC has expanded its employee travel ban to include South Korea and Japan on top of previous bans covering China, Iran and parts of Italy. The travel ban may expand further in the coming days after a Google employee in Switzerland was diagnosed with the virus.
“We can confirm that one employee from our Zurich office has been diagnosed with the coronavirus,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement. “They were in the Zurich office for a limited time, before they had any symptoms. We have taken —- and will continue to take — all necessary precautionary measures, following the advice of public health officials, as we prioritize everyone’s health and safety.”
Twitter Inc. also joined the list Sunday, banning all “noncritical” business travel because of the spread of the virus. The Telegraph noted that the ban includes Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey’s scheduled appearance at SxSW.
Companies including Facebook Inc., Apple Inc., Microsoft Corp. and others have had travel bans in place for mainland China dating back more than a month. Given the rapid spread of the virus, those bans are likely to extend to more countries. The big test in the coming week, however, is whether other companies, in addition to Amazon and Twitter, will also start restricting travel within the U.S. itself.
The U.S. currently has 76 confirmed cases and one death. The largest concern is that the virus may be established with community transmission as opposed to cases relating to people who have traveled abroad. The New York Times reported that cases detected weeks apart with unique genetic markers in Washington State suggests that there could be from 150 to 1,500 undetected cases in the state alone and that the virus is in the wild and being rapidly spread.
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