By Dahlia Nehme and Alexander Cornwell
DUBAI (Reuters) – Organisers of Expo 2020 Dubai on Monday backed a proposal to postpone the event for one year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The announcement came after a meeting between officials from the United Arab Emirates and foreign countries participating in the nearly six-month-long event that was due to begin in October.
Reuters earlier on Monday reported Expo was due to be postponed by a year at the request of participating countries who want to focus on tackling the virus.
“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.”
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 delay is set to be a major blow for Dubai as the emirate – which would have spent over $8 billion 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 $9 billion in incremental tourist spending.
Expo was the last major international event that was still officially scheduled to go ahead this year. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics were last week postponed by a year.
(Reporting by Dahlia Nehme and Alexander Cornwell, additional reporting by Davide Barbuscia; Editing by Angus MacSwan, Pritha Sarkar and Giles Elgood)