First it was Amazon, Twitter and Meta. Then Intel and Google. And later Microsoft, OnePlus and AMD. In recent days, several technology giants have announced that they will not attend CES in person. The success of the largest consumer electronics fair in the world, scheduled to take place between January 5 and 8 in Las Vegas, seems to be staggering before the arrival of omicron, a more infectious variant that has complicated the operation of essential services and the activity of key economic sectors in multiple countries. But, despite the incessant trickle of casualties, the organizers of the event continue with their plans: a hybrid CES that combines face-to-face and digital events.
Before the pandemic, this fair attracted more than 100,000 attendees each year. In it, revolutionary inventions such as CDs, high definition television, Blu-Ray or 3D printers have been presented. If the first exclusively virtual CES in history due to the coronavirus took place in 2021, this year a new wave threatens to boycott attendance at the fair.
“Out of the precaution and care of our employees, we will not attend CES in person due to evolving public health concerns related to covid-19,” says a spokesperson for Meta (the company that encompasses Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram ). The technology company will virtually participate in the fair “to the extent possible”, since CES “continues to be an important event for Meta, our clients and industry partners.”
Google, “after careful consideration”, has also decided not to attend the event in person. “We have closely followed the development of the omicron variant and have decided that it is the best option for the health and safety of our teams,” says a spokesman for the Mountain View company. Similarly, Amazon insists that the health and safety of its employees is its “highest priority”: “Due to the constantly changing situation and the uncertainty surrounding the omicron variant, we will not have a physical presence at CES.” Lenovo is in the same vein, which has also canceled all its in-person meetings and will focus on virtual activities.
Despite all these losses, the CTA, the organizing association of the event, for the moment maintains its commitment to a face-to-face CES. “The CES will continue and must continue,” said Gary Shapiro, director of the CTA, in an opinion piece published last Saturday in the newspaper. Las Vegas Review Journal. The head of the fair recognizes that this year the CES will have many more small companies than large ones. “There may be big voids on the show floor. Certainly, it will be different from previous years ”, he acknowledges.
Shapiro believes that if the fair is canceled, it would harm thousands of small companies and entrepreneurs “who have invested in the construction of their exhibits and count on CES for their business, inspiration and future.” In principle, more than 2,200 exhibitors from 160 countries will attend Las Vegas hotels and convention centers, according to the CTA. Among the companies that intend to attend CES in person is the Spanish company Myhixel. Its founder, Patricia López, explains that the opportunity to be at CES in person “opens the doors to an exchange of experiences and opportunities that, perhaps online, are more difficult to obtain.”
“The CES is a unique international meeting that allows us to be in contact with media from around the world, open new commercial and collaboration agreements and even explore new investment avenues, something that increases the chances of success in person”, it states. In recent months, López has attended other international events such as the Web Summit in Lisbon: “Whenever possible and safe, we will be present at CES.”
There are also big tech companies that are going ahead with their plans to go to CES. LG sources confirm their attendance at the fair. From Sony they claim to be evaluating the evolution of the situation daily. Samsung also plans to be present at the event. “We are closely monitoring the current situation and will take the necessary measures. These types of considerations include the presence of a smaller delegation at the fair and promoting online experiences, ”say sources from the South Korean company.
Is CES Safe?
Just a few days before the CES kick-off, the million dollar question is how safe it is to hold this massive event. Shapiro claims to have consulted with experts: “We have been informed that with our health and safety protocols, infections must be minimal.” The CTA insists that “strong security measures” will be taken. In addition to the mandatory vaccination of attendees, the use of masks will be required and covid-19 diagnostic tests will be provided to those who present symptoms.
The organizers emphasize that the ventilation systems of the exhibition venues have been improved and the width of the corridors has been increased to ensure social distancing. “We are actively tracking emerging news and science around the new omicron variant. We will continue to monitor and adjust our health plans and protocols as necessary, ”says the event’s organizing association.
The omicron variant is between three and five times more transmissible than the delta, according to Isabel Sola, a virologist at the coronavirus laboratory of the National Center for Biotechnology (CNB-CSIC). The expert considers that “at this time any mass gathering is a risk, particularly if it is in closed spaces and involves social encounters in which people eat, drink or talk, possibly without a mask.”
Alfredo Corell, member of the Spanish Society of Immunology and professor of Immunology at the University of Valladolid, defends that mass events can continue to be held as long as the concentration of people can be avoided and the appropriate security measures are taken. “Today we know the transmission measures of the virus in a scientific way, with evidence, to cancel this type of event due to a specific variant,” he says.
For him, it would be essential to ensure air quality, mainly indoors, with a permanent mechanical ventilation system and CO2 meters. In addition to controlling capacity, the ideal would be for “all attendees to wear FFP2 masks.” “To ensure that everyone who enters has the mask in good condition, it should be provided at the entrance to the site,” he says. Another measure that, according to Corell, “would filter a significant percentage of people who could be contagious would be to ask for the vaccination card at the entrance or do an antigen test and only allow access to people who do not test positive.”
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