Coronavirus, or COVID-19, has led to a wave of tech conference cancellations in the Middle East, with a majority of them in the UAE, as cases of the illness climb past 50 in the Gulf trading hub.
A handful of technology-related conferences were suspended over the last two weeks in Dubai alone and the numbers are growing after the deadly virus spread to the Gulf country from its regional epicenter in Iran.
One of the latest conferences to be cancelled is the Gulf Information Security Expo and Conference (GISEC), the region’s largest cybersecurity event, which has been moved from 6–8 April to 1-3 September this year.
“Whilst the UAE remains completely safe for travel, and has deployed the strictest medical and hygiene protocols, we fully recognise that for some specific shows, we have a high majority of key participants significant to the event’s programme that are unable to travel due to restrictions in their home countries,” according to a notice on the show’s website.
One of the first big shows to be cancelled was research firm Gartner’s IT symposium/Xpo, which was to be held 2-4 March in Dubai. Gartner has not set a new date for the conference, but e-mailed the following statement to all participants: “Ensuring the health and safety of our customers and employees is our highest priority. Therefore, out of an abundance of caution, we believe this is the right decision given the evolving public health risks.”
Another high-profile technology summit, Ai Everything, is being postponed from 10-11 March to a later date that will be announced over the next few weeks. Dubai World Trade Centre, which organizes the event, said the decision was made “in light of the global development around the COVID-19 virus,” and that it was closely monitoring the situation.
Similarly, the Capacity Middle East conference, held in Dubai for the subsea networking infrastructure sector, is also being postponed from the first week of March to “a new date later this year,” according to its organizers, Capacity Media. “The position has changed rapidly this week as we are in a period of unprecedented volatility,” they said on the event website.
Elsewhere, GEO 2020 — a Bahrain geoscience conference with a strong tech component — has been rescheduled from 16-19 March to September. The Middle East Petroleum and Gas Conference (MPGC), originally scheduled for 30-31 March, also held in Bahrain, will be rescheduled as well.
Coronavirus has far-reaching impact
The respiratory illness, which was first detected in Wuhan, China three months ago, has now spread to Asia and Europe, leading to travel bans, cities being locked down and some of the steepest falls in global market indices. Around the world, the virus has infected more than 98,000 people, resulting in 3,390 deaths.
It now threatens to impact businesses across all sectors.
“The current situation with coronavirus will continue to disrupt supply chains in Asia and other countries that are being impacted by the spread of the virus,” said Elizabeth Parks, President of IoT market redsearch consultancy Parks Associates.
The Middle East will see a disruption in manufacturing as the countries work to contain the spread of the virus, Parks added.
Saudi Arabia temporarily halted Umrah pilgrimage, where Muslims from around the world travel to the Islamic holy site of Mecca. Other GCC countries including UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain have introduced travel restrictions to limit the virus’ spread, with authorities urging residents to stay indoors.
Due to these travel-curbing measures and plunging oil prices, Gulf countries are staring at the prospect of lower economic growth rates this year.
At the same time, large events – such as conferences, concerts and exhibitions – will “continue to be limited until the virus is contained,” says Parks.