Just two weeks before it is set to open its doors to tens of thousands of people at the massive Las Vegas Convention Center, one of the largest technology trade shows is in limbo.
CES is struggling with a growing number of dropouts of worried exhibitors, attendees and media as omicron cases are on the rise. On Tuesday, companies including Facebook parent company Meta, Amazon, T-Mobile and Twitter pulled out, along with most major tech-focused publications including CNET, The Verge and TechCrunch.
The conference is still scheduled to take place Jan. 5-8. CES organizers said they were comfortable holding it in person due to its health measures, lower attendance and social distancing measures.
The show went fully remote last January in the thick of the winter coronavirus surge, but is typically a sprawling in-person networking event featuring everything from cuddly robots to self-driving cars. Hosted by the Consumer Technology Association, CES (formerly the Consumer Electronics Show) attracted more than 170,000 attendees the year before the pandemic. In January 2020, it spread across 2.9 million square feet of exhibit space and had 4,419 exhibitors.
This year, the conference required vaccines and masks for all attendees for the nearly entirely indoors conference. According to the CTA, more than 2,100 exhibitors were lined up for 2022. Meta, Google’s Waymo, AT&T and Samsung were among some of its biggest names.
The highly contagious omicron variant changed plans quickly. The coronavirus variant accounted for 73% of new coronavirus cases in the United States between Dec. 12 and 18, according to modeled projections from the CDC.
“Out of an abundance of caution and care for our employees, we won’t be attending CES in-person due to the evolving public health concerns related to COVID-19,” said Meta spokesperson Kamran Mumtaz. The company plans to still participate virtually.
Amazon said late Tuesday it was pulling out of the in-person event. “The health and safety of our employees is our top priority. Due to the quickly shifting situation and uncertainty around the Omicron variant, we will no longer have an on-site presence at CES,” said spokesperson Sarah Sobolewski.
(Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
T-Mobile also announced it was no longer attending on Tuesday, saying in a blog post, “While we are confident that CES organizers are taking exhaustive measures to protect in-person attendees and we had many preventative practices in place as well, we are prioritizing the safety of our team and other attendees with this decision.”
Samsung was still undecided about the event.