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Dubai Expo hopes to mark post-COVID transition for UAE

Dubai Expo 2020 is expected to be the most attended international event since the coronavirus pandemic.
An Emirate woman watches the 360-degree video display at the Israeli Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Sept. 27, 2021.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The United Arab Emirates (UAE) opens Expo 2020 on Oct. 1, after a year of delay due to the coronavirus pandemic, which hit the global economy, travel and tourism industry.

The world fair was scheduled for October 2020, but following World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations to ban mass events and big gatherings at the beginning of the pandemic, the UAE decided to postpone the Expo.

The opening of Expo 2020, which is being held for the first time in the Middle East, comes at a time that some countries started to ease travel and social restrictions, while the UAE managed to control the spread of the virus.

Recently, the UAE government has eased rules of wearing face masks in some public places, after a significant fall in new COVID-19 cases.

The move was taken after more than 80% of the UAE population has received two shots of the vaccine, putting the country among the fastest in the vaccination efforts.

For people’s safety, visitors of Expo 2020 must present proof of vaccination or show a negative PCR test. Nonvaccinated visitors can be tested at the onsite PCR testing facility.

Dubai expects the arrival of the largest number of visitors in the World Expo's history for the six months of the event, which will take place in an area of 4.3 square kilometers (1.7 square miles). Expo 2020 is considered the biggest event to be held after the pandemic.

In April, Reem Al Hashimy, director-general of the Dubai Expo 2020, announced that the committee expects the arrival of 25 million visitors, the same target that had been set before the start of the pandemic.

More than 20 million people visited Expo 2015 in Milan, Italy, which represents a benchmark for the Dubai event.

Dr. Sherif Fayed, consultant of infectious diseases and pulmonology at Al Zahara Hospital in Dubai and a fellow of the Royal College of Glasgow, said that the UAE applied all the recommendations issued by the WHO in dealing with the pandemic, so it managed to control the virus.

The WHO media office did not respond to a request for comment sent by Al-Monitor.

Fayed played down the risks that might result as millions of people would flood to Dubai during the Expo 2020, saying that the number of vaccinated people in the UAE is very high, as well as in most of the countries from which visitors will come, such as Europe. 

Fayed told Al-Monitor that no coronavirus cases have been detected in Al Zahara Hospital during the past month, adding, "This is proof that the situation now is much better than a year ago.”

On Sept. 27, UAE’s Ministry of Health announced 286 new coronavirus cases and four deaths.

The Expo 2020 will bring 192 countries together for a better tomorrow under the theme of "Connecting Minds … Making the Future."

For the first time in the history of the World Expo, each country will have its own pavilion, through which it will display its culture, and the progress it made in innovation and technology.

The event offers many programs and initiatives to tackle future challenges, according to the Expo 2020 website.

Through “program for people and planet,” the organizers not only seek to bring the world together but also to chart the future through clean, safe initiatives and projects and effective dialogues that provide real solutions to the challenges facing the planet.

"Our world continues to change rapidly, and we need to move forward and collaborate to keep pace with rapid developments,” Nadia Verjee, who is responsible for the program, told the Emirates News Agency.

In addition to this vision, Dubai is seeking to boost its economy from the event, which cost its budget billions of dollars since it was selected to host it eight years ago.

In April 2019, consultancy EY, a member of Ernst & Young Global Limited, predicted that Expo 2020 would generate 22.7 billion dirhams ($ 6.2 billion), equivalent to 1.5% of the UAE's annual gross domestic product.

EY reported, “Expo 2020 is also expected to support up to 905,200 full-time equivalents (FTE) job-years in the UAE from 2013-31, which is equal to approximately 49,700 FTE jobs per annum in the UAE over this period.”

However, the former managing editor of Mubasher platform, Mahmoud Mekkawi, said it is difficult to fully achieve the goals that were set before the pandemic, even though the organizers have provided all means of its success to be a great push to the economy.

The UAE-based analyst told Al-Monitor that Expo 2020 comes after a state of uncertainty that has controlled the world due to the coronavirus pandemic, so all are striving toward a common goal of global economic recovery and restoring growth rates as it was before the pandemic.

Fayed said that there is a need to balance between economic needs and protecting people, noting that governments around the world started to remove restrictions gradually to return to a normal economy. But at the same time, they should keep an eye on people's health because the cost will be high if they neglect this.

Mekkawi believes that the Expo 2020 will be a new beginning and an opportunity for Dubai to prove its ability to recover, confirming that the UAE will achieve great economic returns in the tourism and travel sectors, which was an important source of income for the city.

In the travel and tourism sector, the UAE has achieved progress in occupancy rates and travel traffic, which had declined due to the pandemic.

In August, the total number of travelers to the UAE rose to more than 2.5 million, compared to 814,000 during the same period in 2020, an increase of 207%, according to the General Civil Aviation Authority.

“People all over the globe got tired of lockdowns; they are eager to return to normal life after restrictions on travel have been relaxed in some countries, which may provide an incentive to increase the demand for visiting the event,” Mekkawi said.

He concluded, “The companies that suffered big losses over the last 18 months also seek to return to pre-pandemic rates. This is a great opportunity for all sectors to offer what they have for the future after the closures and losses."

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