The coronavirus outbreak and its resulting economic impact has dominated discussions in the UAE during the past month, but the possible year-long postponement of Expo 2020 Dubai has stolen the spotlight, as the nation takes cognizance of COVID-19’s long-term repercussions.
The Expo 2020 Dubai’s Steering Committee held a virtual meeting of the College of Commissioners General, which included representatives from Expo 2020 Dubai, the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE), and approximately 30 participating countries, who explored the idea of changing the dates.
During the meeting, participating countries briefed the Steering Committee on the global precautionary measures that have been taken to ensure the health and safety of all those involved in preparing for what is touted to be “the world’s greatest show”.
Following discussions, the committee collectively came to a consensus to explore with the BIE – the World Expo governing body – the possibility of a one-year delay to the opening of Expo 2020 Dubai.
The BIE will now work with its member states and the World Expo organisers to establish a change in dates.
A final decision on postponement can only be made by the BIE’s Executive Committee and its General Assembly because Article 28 of the BIE Convention stipulates that, a change of dates requires a two-thirds majority vote from member states of the organisation.
Commenting on the impact of COVID-19, the UAE Minister of State for International Cooperation and the director general of Expo 2020 Dubai, HE Reem Al Hashimy, said: “The global situation is fast moving, and remains unpredictable. Over the last several weeks, we have been consulting with key UAE and international stakeholders to review the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on our plans and preparations for Expo 2020 Dubai.”
“While many countries remain firmly committed to Expo 2020, they have been significantly impacted by COVID-19, and have, therefore, expressed a need to postpone the opening of Expo 2020 Dubai by one year, to enable them to overcome this challenge.”
Al Hashimy added: “The UAE and Expo 2020 Dubai have listened. In the spirit of solidarity and unity, we supported the proposal to explore a one-year postponement at today’s Steering Committee meeting. We look forward to welcoming the world, which we are certain will only come out of this pressing challenge stronger, and more resilient than it ever was.”
Expo 2020 Dubai in 2021?
Within a week of the virtual meeting on 30 March, the UAE government officially requested the postponement of Expo 2020 Dubai – marking the revised dates from October 2021 to 31 March, 2022.
The UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, HH Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, wrote a letter to the secretary-general of the BIE, Dimitri Kerkentzes, seeking the postponement of the event.
The UAE government has also requested further approval to continue using “Expo 2020 Dubai” as the official title of the World Expo, irrespective of the change in dates.
A number of member countries have already come forward to show their support for the potential one-year postponement.
The general commissioner of Expo 2020’s France Pavilion, Erik Linquier, who took part in the Expo 2020 Dubai Steering Committee meeting, confirmed to Construction Week that France will adapt to any change in the timeline.
Linquier said: “We recognise the Expo 2020 organisers, and the UAE, for their quick response to the extraordinary circumstances everyone is facing. Bringing together all nations in one place to combine the innovations which unite us will be more vital than ever before once this pandemic is behind us.”
COFREX (Compagnie Française des Expositions), which is tasked with managing France’s participation at the event, is continuing construction work on the country pavilion in line with the UAE’s health and safety rules for construction sites in Dubai.
“We remain fully committed to playing our role in making the World Expo a memorable and unique event,” Linquier added.
Similarly, construction is also going ahead as planned at the Monaco pavilion, in compliance with safety regulations and “barrier measures”, the general- commissioner of the Monaco pavilion, Albert Croesi, and lead manager of the Monaco Inter Expo confirmed.
Croesi said: “The Monaco Expo teams remain ready to prepare and ensure the smooth running of the pavilion’s schedule. The Expo world is one big family, and in these special circumstances the collective energy will be even more positive and hopeful if a postponement of the Expo is decided upon for 2021.”
Speaking to Construction Week, the commissioner-general of the Finland Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai, Severi Keinälä, said: “Finland is fully committed to participating in, and contributing to a successful Expo 2020 Dubai.”
Keinälä added: “A world facing a pandemic and immense economic challenges does not support the idea of organising or attending mass events such as a World Expo. The winter of 2021-2022 will present Dubai and the 192 participating countries a significant opportunity.”
Likewise, the president and chief executive officer of the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) and commissioner-general of the Republic of Korea’s pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai, Pyung-oh Kwon, emphasised the importance for the Expo to “come to life at the appropriate time.”
Kwon said: “World Expos are a place where the world comes together to showcase the best of humanity. Since this is a difficult time in many places, it is more important than ever before that this Expo comes to life in the best possible way and at an appropriate time.”
The commissioner-general of Expo 2020’s Indonesia Pavilion, Dody Edward, who also took part in the Steering Committee meeting, said: “After a year shaped by isolation and social distancing, imagine the appetite for human contact and collaboration in 2021. Indonesia is hopeful that the postponement will be passed by the BIE General Assembly and we can all look forward to a brighter 2021.”
The BIE’s Executive Committee will finalise the postponement request in a virtual meeting on 21 April, 2020, with the participation of members of the Committee – delegates of 12 elected member states – as well as the secretary-general of the BIE.
Al Hashimy concluded: “We will follow due BIE processes on making the decision to delay Expo 2020. We remain firm in our collective commitment to deliver a World Expo that is true to its time and true to our shared, urgent priorities.”
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