About 70 South Korean nationals who attended CES in Las Vegas last week, including 20 executives from Samsung Electronics, tested positive for COVID-19 and were delayed returning home, according to Korean news reports.
The Korea Herald reported the Samsung employees were returned to South Korea on chartered flights Tuesday and Wednesday.
Local health authorities said they could not positively link infections to the CES show, which attracted an estimated 45,000 people, well below the 170,000 attendees the show normally draws.
“We are aware of media reports that some individuals who participated in CES in January 2022 tested positive to COVID-19 upon their return,” a representative of the Consumer Technology Association, operators of CES, said in a statement.
“CES 2022 had very robust health protocols developed with the advice of health-care professionals and government safety officials. The requirements for proof of vaccination and masking in all CES indoor venues, as well as providing self-testing kits for all attendees helped us create a safer environment for our exhibitors, members and attendees. We offered free PCR testing to all international attendees who were required to show proof of a negative test before flying internationally to their destination,” the statement said.
“We don’t have confirmation of the number of cases as it is extremely difficult to determine exactly when and where anyone contracted COVID-19. Results from testing done onsite by medical staff were reported to the local Southern Nevada Health Authorities.”
Samsung was one of the largest companies to attend the show in person after dozens of companies opted to withdraw because of COVID-19 infection fears.
The Consumer Technology Association has been praised for the level of health and safety procedures it initiated for the show, but also criticized for allowing the show to occur in the first place.
About 70 attendees, all South Korean nationals, tested positive for COVID-19 as of Tuesday, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency. Some 340 South Korean companies participated in CES, it added.
“Many Korean businesspeople who attended CES … are now confirmed to be infected with COVID-19,” Son Young-rae, a senior South Korean health ministry official, told a briefing, according to a Reuters report.
“We are promptly contacting those who participated in the event and conducting epidemiological investigations, but we urge domestic businesspeople or those who are in Korea that attended the event to undergo PCR tests as soon as possible,” he said.
Most of the Samsung officials who tested positive were flown back to Korea from Nevada in two chartered flights, arriving late on Tuesday Seoul time, and the remaining Samsung officials were expected to be flown back on Wednesday, South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported, citing unidentified industry sources.
The Samsung officials are being moved to quarantine facilities in South Korea and most were asymptomatic or have light symptoms, the paper said.
Nevada state health authorities said, “Many new cases have had recent travel history, attended events, and have visited multiple locations where they could potentially have acquired their infection.” They said they do “not have evidence linking the recent surge in COVID-19 cases with CES.”
Samsung Electronics declined to confirm details of the cases. It said it “took a number of steps to protect the health and well-being of (CES) attendees,” including requiring vaccines, mask mandates, social distancing protocols and providing testing for all employees throughout the week.
Another South Korean company SK Group in attendance at CES declined to comment on the cases, citing its policy of not disclosing personal information. Hyundai Motor Group, which also had a significant presence at CES, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Samsung had a prevalent role at CES with CEO Jong-Hee “JH” Han delivering a pre-show opening keynote address Jan. 4 before trade show floors opened the next day.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.