Tech Companies Cancel Conferences, Take Supply Chain Hits

Although the coronavirus has barely made it to the United States, it is already disrupting the operations of the five most powerful technology companies in the world.

"It's on everyone's mind," a Microsoft employee told BuzzFeed News. "How could it not be?"

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Not much is known about COVID-19 yet, but the leaders of Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple and Amazon are already limiting travel, asking employees to be careful and canceling conferences as they prepare for a possible pandemic.

Google, with an employee already infected, expects to be able to continue with its I / O developer conference in May, but is closely monitoring the progression of the virus. Microsoft left this year's game developer conference in San Francisco. Facebook on Thursday canceled its annual F8 developer conference in San Jose, its most significant event of the year, opting for small local meetings. Apple is rushing to recover its supply chain after slowdowns in China. And Amazon said it would limit its employees' travel in the U.S. and internationally.

For now, employees of the tech giants have told BuzzFeed News that their companies are operating with caution and uncertainty. "Everyone sees that there will be an impact," said the Microsoft employee. "It all depends on how long it lasts and what is the subsequent implication of supply chains, commercial investments and infrastructure."

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On Friday, Google confirmed an employee in his Zurich office had been infected with COVID-19. But the company told BuzzFeed News that its major developer conference is still in progress. "Google I / O is planned for May 12-14," said a spokesman. "We will continue to monitor developments around COVID-19 and follow best practices established by the CDC, WHO and other relevant entities." The spokesman said the company had a coronavirus plan, but declined to elaborate.

But some technology companies have canceled their participation in major conferences. Microsoft not only withdrew from the Game Developers Conference, a significant move for the company that develops the Xbox – but also canceled some meetings for employees who require global travel. "We have risk management scenarios for which we are prepared," a Microsoft spokesman told BuzzFeed News. "We have maintained close and regular contact with the relevant authorities related to COVID-19 and we have a series of measures that we are prepared for, if necessary."

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On Facebook, the cancellation of the F8 surprised some employees. "I didn't see much interruption until I saw the post about F8, which was a surprise and seems premature, as the conference is in two months," a Facebook official told BuzzFeed News, adding: I think it really affects the strategy of launch of FB products. "

Facebook has restricted travel to Italy, South Korea and to and from mainland China, a company spokesman told BuzzFeed News. The virus also affected its ability to produce Oculus VR headsets. "Oculus Quest has been selling in some regions due to high demand," said the spokesman. "That said, like other companies, we expect some additional impact on hardware production due to the coronavirus."

After closing some factories in early February, Apple is now "getting back to normal," said Tim Cook in an interview with Fox Business on Thursday. "I am very optimistic," he added.

Still, within Apple, not everything is back to normal. An increasing number of new hires have not received work equipment from China, someone who works at Apple told BuzzFeed News. And the company has restricted travel to some counties in the Asia-Pacific region, leading to an increase in people working at home and on video conferencing. Some workers have changed the way they move to avoid the risk of coronavirus. "Driving to work," said the person who works at Apple. "Do not use transport buses to decrease exposure."

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It is not yet clear whether Apple will hold its World Developer Conference in San Jose this year. An Apple spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on the company's plans to respond to the outbreak. A spokesman for the mayor of San Jose, Sam Liccardo, declined to comment.

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Amazon canceled some trips, both inside and outside the U.S. "We are asking employees to postpone non-essential travel during this period," a spokesman told BuzzFeed News. The US restriction was added this week, after restrictions in China, South Korea and Europe.

Amazon has also been busy keeping up with the coronavirus scammers and profiteers. it is banned more than 1 million products on its website for false coronavirus claims. It also removed thousands of pricing products, although that remains a battle in progress.

These disruptions will have an inevitable impact on the business of the tech giants, but the extent of what will happen is unclear. Two analysts declined to comment on what could happen to the sector. "Sorry, we haven't even started to structure this yet," said one. "It has to pass."

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