UPDATE 1-Ericsson pulls out of major Barcelona conference over coronavirus

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STOCKHOLM/PARIS, Feb 7 (Reuters) - Swedish telecom equipment maker Ericsson is withdrawing from an international telecoms conference in Barcelona this month because of the coronavirus outbreak, saying it could not guarantee the safety of its staff and customers.

The Mobile World Congress, organised by industry body GSMA, which is scheduled for Feb. 24-27 and attracts more than 100,000 visitors, has come under increased scrutiny since the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus epidemic a public health emergency of international concern.

Ericsson said it had made the decision to withdraw after carrying out an extensive internal risk assessment and that the health and safety of its staff and customers was paramount.

"Ericsson appreciates that GSMA have done everything they can to control the risk," company said in a statement.

"However, as one of the largest exhibitors, Ericsson has thousands of visitors in its hall each day and even if the risk is low, the company cannot guarantee the health and safety of its employees and visitors."

The organiser of the conference said this week that the it would go ahead as planned after South Korea's LG Electronics withdrew.

It also announced measures to help prevent the spread of the virus across the event's three main venues, including changing microphones between speakers and advising all attendees to adopt a "no-handshake policy".

Pulling out of the Mobile World Congress is not a decision exhibitors take lightly, with the cost of putting up and running a stand running into millions of dollars, according to people who have worked on project teams for the event in past years.

For big exhibitors, securing a prime spot in one of the major congress halls is a matter of prestige.

Any stand position that is abandoned is likely to be grabbed by a rival exhibitor, making it harder to secure a good position the following year.

(Reporting by Mathieu Rosemain in Paris, Niklas Pollard in Stockholm and Doug Busvine in Berlin Editing by David Goodman/Keith Weir)