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Overshadowed by Omicron, tech fest Slush draws smaller crowd

·2-min read

By Supantha Mukherjee

HELSINKI, Dec 2 (Reuters) - Finland's tech startup event Slush has attracted thousands but also suffered last-minute cancellations as top company bosses chose safety over meeting people, raising concerns physical conferences could soon be back on hold.

After more than a year of cancelled gatherings, Mobile World Congress (MWC) started the reopening in Europe with a curtailed version of its annual telecom event in July in Spain, followed by a packed house at the Web Summit in Portugal.

Slush, named after the weather typical for Finland at the start of December, attracts venture capital firms and startups.

The conference organisers said they could not yet give precise detail of cancellations, but said around 9,000 people were attending this week's event compared with more than 20,000 before the pandemic.

They made safety a priority, insisting on masks and only allowing delegates to enter with vaccine certificates or proof they had tested negative for COVID.

As Finland experiences more than 1,000 new daily virus cases, the highest in the country since the pandemic began, the president has cancelled the traditional Independence Day party scheduled for Dec. 6.

Event cancellations last year led conferencing companies to cut staff to limit losses.

GSMA, organiser of the MWC laid off 40% of its staff, but has said it expects to go ahead with Europe's biggest telecom conference in February in Barcelona.

"Planning for MWC remains dynamic given the ever-changing global circumstances," a GSMA spokeswoman said. "We are continuously responding to the latest information available."

Several telecom companies told Reuters they are interested in attending the Barcelona event, but have deferred decisions pending more information on the new Omicron coronvarius variant the emerged last month.

"We do in-person whenever we can," said Matthew Miller, a partner at venture capital firm Sequoia, which is an investor in video conferencing platform Zoom.

"Even though we are large investors of Zoom and all the power it gives us, these conversations in person are just always better," he said. (Reporting by Supantha Mukherjee; editing by Barbara Lewis)

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