Organisers of Expo 2020 Dubai have backed a proposal to postpone the event for one year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The announcement came on Monday after a meeting between officials from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and foreign countries participating in the nearly six-month-long event that was due to begin in October.
“Many countries have been significantly impacted by COVID-19 and they have therefore expressed a need to postpone the opening of Expo 2020 Dubai by one year, to enable them to overcome this challenge,” Director General for Expo 2020 Dubai Reem al-Hashimy said in a statement.
“The UAE and Expo 2020 Dubai have listened. And in the spirit of solidarity and unity, we supported the proposal to explore a one-year postponement at today’s Steering Committee meeting.”
The statement also quoted Dimitri S Kerkentzes, the secretary-general of the Bureau International des Expositions which had awarded the fair to Dubai in 2014, as saying the recommendation was “welcome” under the circumstances.
The event has helped boost Dubai’s critical real-estate market and had officials hoping for more tourists in the city-state that is home to the world’s busiest airport for international travel.
However, the pandemic has currently grounded flights by Dubai’s long-haul carrier Emirates, jeopardised global tourism and caused further panic in a real-estate market already down by a third since the 2014 announcement.
An estimated 11 million overseas visitors were expected to attend the showpiece of culture, business and technology featuring pavilions from 192 countries.
A final decision will be made in June by member states of the Paris-based Bureau International des Expositions, which awards the event.
Two sources familiar with the matter said it was unlikely member states would vote against postponing. The confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide now number 725,000, with 34,000 deaths.
The delay is set to be a significant blow for Dubai as the emirate – which would have spent more than eight billion dollars on Expo-related infrastructure projects by the end of the fair – was relying on the event to boost its economy.
Dubai-based Arqaam Capital last year forecast an economic benefit from Expo of up to nine billion dollars in incremental tourist spending.
Expo was the last major international event that was still officially scheduled to go ahead this year. The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games were last week postponed by a year.