Dubai’s Expo 2020 should be postponed to next year over the new coronavirus pandemic, local organizers recommended Monday, pushing back a world’s fair that the sheikhdom has bet billions of dollars on to rejuvenate its troubled economy.
The ultimate decision over the event will be made by Paris-based Bureau International des Expositions, which had awarded the fair to this skyscraper-studded city in 2014. That helped boost Dubai’s crucial real-estate market and had officials hoping for more tourists in this city-state that is home to the world’s busiest airport for international travel.
Now, the pandemic has grounded flights by Dubai’s long-haul carrier Emirates, jeopardized global tourism and caused further panic in a real-estate market already down by a third since the 2014 announcement.
Reem al-Hashimy, the director-general of Expo 2020, said in a statement that participants had been “significantly impacted” by the virus and the COVID-19 illness it causes.
“The UAE and Expo 2020 Dubai have listened,” al-Hashimy said in the statement. “In the spirit of solidarity and unity, we supported the proposal to explore a one-year postponement.”
The statement also quoted Dimitri S. Kerkentzes, the secretary-general of the Bureau International des Expositions, as saying the recommendation was “welcome” under the circumstances.
“We retain full confidence in the UAE’s ability to host a World Expo that inspires and delights millions, when the time is right,” Kerkentzes said.
Expo 2020 did not respond to questions from The Associated Press.
The International des Expositions meanwhile told the AP it would now work to “establish a change in dates” at an upcoming meeting to discuss the proposed postponement. It also said it was confident in Dubai making sure the tens of thousands of workers at the under-construction Expo site don’t contract the coronavirus themselves, without elaborating.
Confirmed cases worldwide now number 725,000, with 34,000 deaths. Already, the Tokyo Olympics and other major world events have been postponed over the virus. While two-thirds of the bureau’s members must approve a delay, it likely will be granted.