On the 3rd of February 2021, Singapore’s Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) announced that the World Economic Forum’s special annual meeting will be postponed to the third week of August this year.
Initially scheduled to take place at the end of May, the WEF’s request to shift the event’s date came in light of present international travel restrictions and the ongoing global challenges in tackling the virus. As each country also has distinct air transport & quarantine regulations, hosting a summit in the first half of the year was no longer seen as feasible.
The challenge will be to convince world leaders of the importance of physically attending the event at a time where most people - subjected to travel limitations & strict curfews - have become increasingly frustrated with the global Covid-19 pandemic response and more critical of anyone they view as seemingly exempt from said restrictions.
It is too early to say whether any global leaders have decided, or are likely to decide, to opt out of the event altogether as a result of all the uncertainty.
It’s needless to say that the absence of even a few major country’s representatives might create a knock-on effect on the presence of other participants. This would be disastrous for the WEF and for Singapore who - apart from the 2002 edition in New York - are the only country to host the summit outside the Swiss alpine town of Davos in 50 years.
As the WEF’s success is based on the joint physical presence of all its world leaders, its organisers are pushing strongly for an ‘in-person’ gathering and are stressing how the summit ‘needs the participation of all global stakeholders’ as stated by Klaus Schwab, its founder & chairman. As the objective of the WEF is to ‘improve the state of the world’, it necessitates the presence of all global shapers.
There are still some positives to be taken. Covid-19 cases in Singapore are relatively minor as is its level of transmission within the local community. This is partly due to its strict policy regarding all visitors from abroad. In addition, the country is laying out a robust vaccination programme, offering coverage to all Singaporeans & long-term residents, free of charge.
As things stand, the WEF’s annual meeting will take place in Singapore at the end of August. How the event pans out (fully physical or virtual or a mix of the two) remains to be seen and is dependant on a variety of factors both nationally and internationally.
If the WEF cannot guarantee the safety of all its participants by August, it seems unlikely that it could request a third postponement; most likely the 2021 edition would be scrapped in favour of focusing on 2022. Would that take place in January? Would it remain in Singapore or relocate back to Switzerland? Only time will tell.
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