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COVID concerns lead to GM, T-Mobile, Amazon canceling in-person attendance at CES 2022

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Two weeks ahead of the annual CES Show, the omicron COVID-19 variant is driving some big industry players to change their plans for the massive electronics and technology gathering.

General Motors is the latest major exhibitor to cancel its in-person plans for the event, scheduled for Jan. 5-8, 2022, in Las Vegas. GM CEO and chairman Mary Barra is scheduled to speak Jan. 5 and unveil the new electric Chevrolet Silverado pickup. Now, that presentation will be done virtually.

“We have decided to move to an all-digital approach with our activation at CES 2022 in January,” GM spokesman Stu Fowle said in a statement sent to USA TODAY. “CES is an important technology platform, and we are continuing with our plans on January 5 to share our significant company news including the reveal of the Chevrolet Silverado EV.”

Another keynote speaker, T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert, canceled his presentation Tuesday. But Sievert will no longer deliver the keynote in person or virtually, and “the vast majority of our team will not be traveling to Las Vegas,”

“After careful consideration and discussion, T-Mobile has made the difficult decision to significantly limit our in-person participation at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show,” the company said in its statement, also posted on Twitter. “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.”

T-Mobile will remain a CES sponsor and will still be the title sponsor of the Drone Racing League Championship Race, scheduled to be held at the show. 

Other companies made similar moves Tuesday., Meta (the company formerly called Facebook), Pinterest, and Twitter, canceled plans, Bloomberg reported. Twitter, in a statement to USA TODAY, said would continue on as a sponsor and was “exploring virtual speaking opportunities.

The Consumer Technology Association (CTA), which runs CES, said in a statement to USA TODAY that it has gotten 42 exhibitor cancellations – amounting to less than 7% of the show’s exhibit floor – but added 60 new exhibitors, bringing its official count to over 2,200 exhibitors.

“CES will be in person on January 5-8 in Las Vegas with strong safety measures in place, and our digital access is also available for people that don’t wish to, or can’t travel to Las Vegas,” the CTA statement said. “Our mission remains to convene the industry and give those who cannot attend in person the ability to experience the magic of CES digitally.”

All CES attendees will be required to show proof of vaccination, with their attendance badge, and will get a free Abbott Laboratories’ BinaxNow COVID-19 self test. Tests will also be conducted at venues and attendees can get a test before their return trip home. Masks are required at the show and when using official transportation. The show has improved ventilation and expanded its area, widening aisles to allow for social distancing, the CTA said. 

“So, as one of my board members said this week, ‘Going to CES is safer than going to my local grocery store where I don’t know who’s vaccinated and who’s not actually’,” CTA president Gary Shapiro told USA TODAY in an interview last week about the upcoming event.

The CTA had hoped to move forward from last year’s totally virtual CES, in which the COVID-19 shutdown led to big names such as General Motors, LG, Samsung and Sony streaming their presentations to online attendees around the world. Back in January 2019, CES drew more than 175,000.

But the current omicron surge has led to press outlets and exhibitors alike to reconsider participation. Major tech publications including CNET, Engadget, The Verge, TechCrunch, TechRadar and Tom’s Guide are not covering the even in person, The Verge reported. 

In a statement to USA TODAY, Samsung said it is “closely monitoring the current health situation and are planning to take appropriate measures. Considerations include a smaller delegation on-site and the strengthening of online experiences.” The company’s CEO Jong Hee Han is scheduled to deliver a keynote speech on Jan. 4, the eve of the event.

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