The travel and shipping restrictions imposed in China in response to the coronavirus outbreak that began in Wuhan are already beginning to disrupt global trade. The restrictions are inspiring worry about supply chains as well, concerns that run from corporate suites to the trading floors of stock exchanges around the world. The ripple effect of the contagion now also includes the postponement and cancellation of many events in the packed schedule of technical conferences held every year.

Conferences that are being postponed or cancelled include events across Southeast Asia sponsored by international organizations such the ACM and Semi, by companies such as Huawei, and by organizations based in China that cater largely to internal markets. While the outbreak started in the city of Wuhan, conferences being canceled are located in Shenzhen (roughly 680 miles away from Wuhan), Shanghai (roughly 520 miles away), and as far away as Seoul, Korea (roughly 875 miles away, and across the Yellow Sea).

Compared to the rising tally of deaths, and to the potential disruption of the manufacturing of everything from semiconductors to automobiles, the postponement of dozens (and perhaps scores) of conferences might seem like easy decisions, but that doesn’t mean they’re inconsequential. These events are significant economic and industrial drivers in and of themselves.

[Image: Shutterstock]

Some of these events can be huge, involving well over a hundred thousand people. The costs of moving and supporting what amounts to a small city’s worth of people are significant, and so too are the costs of changing or canceling all of those plans. Nor is it cheap to redirect shipments of support equipment or to re-book facilities.

It is not possible to put a value on the free flow of ideas, but there is no question that meeting peers and sharing knowledge is valuable. Canceling events such as this can put crimps in the process of technology development.

Last week Semi, the global organization that represents vendors of semiconductor production systems and materials, canceled [Semicon Korea](https://www.semiconkorea.org/en), which was due to run this week from the 5th to the 7th. Yesterday (Sunday) the organization decided to also cancel [Semicon China](http://www.semiconchina.org/en/1150), scheduled to be held in Shanghai in March. Semicon China is the organization’s largest annual event, drawing over 100,000 people; Semicon Korea is its second largest, in recent years drawing between 50,000 and 60,000 people.

“You have to make this decision in a situation like this, with 50,000 to 60,000 people in an enclosed environment,” said Ajit Manocha the president and CEO of Semi. “In Korea, there were some concerns, but not much until last week when they found five cases of the virus there. So we decided only last week that we would cancel for the welfare of employees and attendees.”

Manocha said that in the organization’s 50-year history, it had canceled only one show once before. That was back in 2003, and it was in response to the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). SARS was also a coronavirus, it similarly originated in China, and it was particularly deadly.

Three recent examples of coronavirus include Middle East Respartory Syncrome (MERS), first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012, SARS, first recognized in China in late 2002, and 2019 Novel Coronavirus identified in China in January 2020.

The memory of SARS is certainly informing decisions of the latest coronavirus outbreak.

Canceling or postponing a show is, in fact, a costly decision for any organization, he said, but given the information available from the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers of Disease Control (CDC), it was the only decision possible to keep everyone that might be involved safe. That includes the 30 people working for Semi in China.

We asked Manocha if Semi had detected any disruptions to the supply chain from the outbreak, or if the effects of the outbreak compounded any supply chain problems from the trade war? He said that the trade war hadn’t really affected Semi members much, if at all; the problem with the trade war remains the costs associated with tariffs.

As for the effects of the coronavirus outbreak, that remains to be seen, he said. “It’s still too early. It only started a week, 10 days ago – no one is ready to say what impact there will be. Maybe in a few weeks, we’ll know. With SARS, there was a delay of four to six months. With this, it’s too early to evaluate the impact.”

He noted that in contrast to the situation in 2003 with SARS, today the supply chain is far more automated, and there is more redundancy built into the system. The global supply chain has enough flexibility to snap back if this outbreak doesn’t drag on too much longer.

Other organizations that have canceled or postponed events include Huawei, which has delayed its annual [Huawei Developer Conference](https://www.huaweicloud.com/intl/en-us/HDC.Cloud.html) (HDC), a Cloud developers conference. It was originally scheduled for February 11th and 12th in Shenzhen. It will instead be held on March 27 to 28, 2020. “It will be presented live via webcast,” Huawei announced.

The International Conference on Computer and Communication Systems is entering its fifth year. Held in a different city around the world, the 2020 event was going to be held in China for the first time. Originally to be held in Shanghai at the end of this month, it will now be pushed back until May.

Due to the coronavirus in China, ICCCS regrets to announce the postponement from February 22-24, 2020 to May 15-17, 2020. Sorry for any inconvenience. Please take good care of yourself and wish the situation will become well soon.

The ACM has been holding its annual International Conference on Machine Learning and Computing (ICMLC) in a different city in China every February. This year’s conference was originally scheduled to be held two weeks from now in Shenzhen, but it has been pushed back by four months. This is the notice on the ICMLC web page:

Notification! Because of coronavirus, the conference dates will be extended to June 19-21, 2020. Sorry for the inconvenience may cause you. 由于疫情,并为了响应政府的号召,会务组决定将会议延期到6月19-21号召开。感谢您的理解。

TCT Asia is a large show focusing on 3D printing and additive manufacturing. The organizers of the show have likewise postponed due to the coronavirus. The notice on the event’s web site says:

After studying and evaluating the announcements, guidance and news released by relevant national departments and in order to protect the health and safety of our exhibitors and visitors we are sorry to announce that TCT Asia, scheduled to be held Feb 19-21, 2020 will be postponed to a later date.

The organizers have yet to announce a new date.