By Arriana McLymore and Danielle Kaye

NEW YORK, NY (Reuters) – Target Corp and computer software firm SAS are among major companies bowing out of what is billed as the retail industry’s biggest annual trade show, slated to start Sunday in New York City’s Javits Center.

Target, which had at least five executives slated to attend, said it has reduced team travel and its execs including President of the Target Foundation Amanda Nusz would now host virtual sessions. SAS, which sponsored at least eight sessions, announced on Twitter it was also participating virtually.

As the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has been ripping through New York, the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) Big Show is the latest major convention to push forward with plans that could lead to a potential super spreader event.

At last week’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), nearly 70 attendees, including some Samsung executives, tested positive for the virus. It was unclear whether they contracted the virus at the convention.

One Twitter user said he canceled his NRF plans after contracting COVID-19 at the consumer electronics event.

NRF is requiring conference attendees to show proof of vaccination and to wear masks. N95 and KN95 masks will be distributed along with COVID-19 rapid tests.

“As we move from pandemic to endemic — a new environment in which we say life can and should go on — there’s going to be friction as we adjust. This year’s show is a step forward, and we believe it’s a necessary and meaningful one,” NRF chief executive Matthew Shay said in a LinkedIn post.

Executives from Walmart, Chewy, Best Buy and cloud-based retail platform NewStore are pressing on with plans to attend the 15,000-person retail trade show.

NewStore is hosting a booth but dialing back external activities for the retail show, according to chief marketing officer Phil Granof. The company is canceling networking dinners, one-on-one meetings and halving the number of employees at the conference to 20 from 40 in previous years.

Granof said that as larger companies pull out, there is less competition for attention. Still, big corporations are not the only ones canceling plans. Gaming platform Unity said it dropped out “after taking into account the current case numbers and employee and vendor comfort level.”

“I cancelled my plans last week. Missing it two years in a row after 15 yrs. [This year] would have been my 17th,” ShiSh Shridhar, global retail head of Microsoft for Startups, said on Twitter.

NRF in December released its updated COVID protocols, ensuring the conference had the green light to go on with 25,000 planned attendees and 900 exhibitors. By Jan. 12, the NRF said there were 15,000 confirmed attendees and 750 vendors.

“The irony, of course, is as the attendance drops, the conference becomes safer,” Granof said.

(Reporting by Arriana McLymore and Danielle Kaye; Editing by David Gregorio)