Facebook cancels San Francisco conference amid growing coronavirus concerns

The continued spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) is having an impact on the tech sector. With less than a month to go, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced his company is canceling its annual Global Marketing Summit because of continued spread and concern of the virus.

“There is a concern, especially when you have an event that attracts people that travel back and forth to china,” said tech expert Larry Magid. “It’s a big deal for Facebook. And not having it is a very big deal.”

Facebook media relations chief Anthony Harrison says, “Our priority is the health and safety of our teams, so out of an abundance of caution, we canceled our Global Marketing Summit due to the evolving public health risks related to coronavirus.”

The coronavirus disease began late last year in Wuhan, China, and has since infected more than 64,000 people in at least 29 countries.

The Global Marketing Summit would have pumped over $11M into San Francisco’s economy. 5,000 attendees had made plans at 10 different city hotels.

“I am disappointed that Facebook is pandering to fear,” said San Francisco District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin.

He said the cancelation will have a small impact on a city ripe with convention revenue.

“It’s too bad for them and too bad for all the people who would have gotten some work,” said Peskin.

While some politicians and health experts say the risk of infection is low and that Facebook is overreacting, one infectious disease expert says this move by the multi-billion dollar company is prudent.

“This isn’t panic. I think this is just a matter of scale,” said Stanford Hospital epidemiologist Dr. Bonnie Maldonado.

She says screening a dozen people for coronavirus is one thing. But keeping track of thousands of people traveling internationally is much harder.

“We don’t have evidence of circulation of the virus in the US, but we could easily have circulation in the US if somebody came into the country unmonitored and walked around and spread the virus,” said Dr. Maldonado. Added Magid, “I think a lot of companies are falling in line, and even organizations. Some have canceled Chinese New Year’s events in Palo Alto.”

Facebook executives promise their Global Marketing Summit will return next year. This, as managing the virus becomes nearly as challenging as managing the fear it’s creating.