Dubai opens Expo 2020 to a world still reeling from pandemic

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Dubai is opening Expo 2020 in an extravagant ceremony, which was delayed by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic

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Delayed by the virus by a year, more than 190 countries are participating in Expo 2020 which will last for six months. The futuristic extravaganza, complete with individual pavilions, feels like an entire city that was once built on rolling sand dunes on the southern fringes of Dubai.

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After spending $7 billion on the site, Dubai hopes to attract new businesses and more foreigners to buy property in the UAE’s commercial hub. However, it also renewed long-standing criticisms of the sheikh being built of skyscrapers, largely built by low-paid workers, where speech and gathering are strictly controlled. .

Thursday night’s ceremony was attended by Abu Dhabi’s powerful Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Dubai Ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and many other dignitaries, a creation for Dubai in the form of hundreds of singers, dancers and acrobats. Offered the equivalent of myth. Exhibited. According to expo organizers, the site’s central Al Wasl Dome, made of steel and weighing the equivalent of 25 blue whales, became a 360-degree screen, showing images of the desert and nature as sound roared through the gathered audience.

The presence of police was visible at the expo site on Thursday before the ceremony, with security guards stationed at every corner. Everyone attending the event went through airport-style security checks. As guests filtered in, speakers chimed in with piped-in bird songs.

The expo will be one of the world’s first global events, following an Olympics this summer that divided host nation Japan and took place without spectators. But unlike Tokyo, the United Arab Emirates has one of the world’s highest vaccination rates per capita and has seen its daily number of cases drop to their lowest level in a year.

After months of insisting that visitors do not need to prove their vaccination status, the expo changed course in recent days and asked who needed to show proof of vaccination or negative coronavirus tests. Similarly, those attending Thursday night’s gala inauguration had to give negative test results in the last 24 hours. Questions remain over how many workers got sick at the site during construction.

Politics can also have an effect on the expo. The European Parliament this month urged nations not to attend the expo, citing human rights abuses, jailing activists and the autocratic government’s use of spyware to target critics.

However, the European Union’s top diplomat Josep Borrell acknowledged in a statement on Thursday that the bloc would take part in the expo.

“In times of great challenges, our societies need to come together, not only to overcome them but also to grow stronger and collaborate better,” Borrell said. “Expo 2020 Dubai is a very visible opportunity to underscore the EU’s commitment to international cooperation and multilateralism.”

Meanwhile, questions remain over the economic boost the emirate is seeing from the event. Relying on a projection of 25 million visitors, auditors EY projected an increase of $6 billion during the event in 2019. EY told The Associated Press it hasn’t updated any of its figures and expo officials say they expect about 25 million “visits,” both in person and online. Dubai has already said it will give government employees six days off to explore the expo site as long-distance carrier Emirates is offering free tickets to passengers.

As Dubai prepares to open the expo, the International Monetary Fund issued a statement saying it expects the Emirati economy to see a “gradual recovery” in 2020 after a 6.1% drop in its GDP . Higher oil prices, coupled with 3% growth in the country’s non-oil economy, should help.

The IMF warned that challenges remain.

“There remains uncertainty about the recovery globally and in the UAE … with a resurgence of the pandemic being a major source of risk,” the IMF said.

Capital Economics analyst James Swanston also warned that while the expo could be a boost for Dubai, its real estate market remains over-supplied and outstanding government debt remains a threat to the city-state.

“Dubai set its hopes on the World Expo to promote its attractiveness as a destination for tourists and migrant workers,” Swanston wrote. “We still think the risk expo has a lasting impact that doesn’t live up to the expectations of policymakers.”

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Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.

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