On 18 March, Expo 2020 Dubai held a virtual steering committee, which involved a discussion with representatives from participating nations on the impact of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic on their preparations.
“Our immediate priority is the health and wellbeing of everyone involved in Expo 2020 Dubai, and this will not be compromised,” said Reem al-Hashimy, UAE minister of state for international cooperation and director general of Expo 2020 Dubai.
“Our monitoring of ongoing developments means we will take all sensible precautions to manage and mitigate risk to all those involved.”
Work continues at the Expo 2020 site in Dubai South, where the first ever World Expo in the Middle East and South Asia will open its doors on 20 October.
Nearly 41,000 workers are currently on site. Expo-led construction is complete, and works on the international pavilions are under way.
Expo 2020’s official statement on Covid-19 states that it is “closely monitoring ongoing developments and has committed to adjusting planned preparations, as changing circumstances require”.
The steering committee will reconvene in the coming weeks to re-assess the situation and plan accordingly.
In an emailed statement, the expo supervising organisation Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) says that “as preparations build up, the situation will continue to be monitored and updates will be made as and when necessary, in line with the guidelines established by the relevant public authorities”.
Dietmar Schmitz, commissioner general of the German pavilion, says the issue is being taken “very seriously”, and they are observing the situation and developments “very closely in order to be able to react appropriately if necessary”.
“Of course, the effects of the virus on production in China were also noticeable on our construction site as some parts of the technical equipment come from China. But with every construction project – no matter [the] size – you will come across incidents that are unforeseeable and make it necessary to adjust the schedule.”
Germany completed the topping out ceremony for its pavilion on 5 March.
Call for more action
Other participants are calling for action. Dietmar Kautschitz, chief customer officer at Switzerland-based Expomobilia, says monitoring is not enough and action is needed.
“[The] postponement of such a megaevent can be a solution, [but] must be prepared well,” he says.
“The complete event has to be ready a minimum of two months [before the opening date]. Scaremongering doesn’t help, but true information is needed. The work poured in so far is immense. A postponement would be clearly connected with further investments to the pavilion by the international participant.”
He further adds: “I trust in the actions of the expo management – they are aware about the situation and will act in the best way for all international participants, main contractors, suppliers and workers.”
Expomobilia is the main contractor for multiple pavilions at the Expo site, including Finland, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Norway.
Olympics in jeopardy
The 2020 Olympic Games, scheduled to be held in Tokyo on 24 July, may also be affected.
On 22 March, the Olympic committees for Canada and Australia announced they will not send athletes to the games because of the risks associated with the coronavirus outbreak.
Both committees are calling for the games to be moved to 2021.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has stated that it is considering postponing the event, and will step up its scenario-planning. It has continuously stressed that cancellation is not on the agenda, but a “scaled-down” approach will be considered.
The IOC has said it will announce its decision within a month, but postponement is thought to be the most likely outcome, which would make it the largest event yet to be affected by the pandemic.
For Expo 2020, the steering committee meeting to reassess the situation in the coming weeks will be crucial. If by that stage the Olympics have been moved to 2021, it will be very difficult for the Expo organisers not to follow their lead.