Hundreds of thousands of visitors are expected to descend on Dubai this week when the Covid-delayed Expo 2020, the world’s largest event since the plague, opens its sparkling pavilions in the desert.
During the year-long hiatus, the Expo site in the dusty Dubai outskirts has been completely off-limits, but the veil will be lifted on Thursday during an opening ceremony attended by Emirati aristocracy.
Among the exhibitions, or pavilions, exhibiting the inventiveness of more than 190 countries will be architectural marvels and a long list of technological advancements.
The first world fair was held in London in 1851, when it was housed in the purpose-built Crystal Palace, and it featured the Eiffel Tower in Paris in 1889, which was supposed to be a temporary attraction.
The first version in the Middle East, in Dubai, is set to be the largest event ever staged in the region, with 25 million people expected over the course of the six-month event.
During the epidemic, the next biggest event in the world was the Tokyo Olympics, when spectators were excluded from practically all sites due to draconian virus laws.
However, the epidemic will leave an indelible mark on Expo 2020, with masks and social distancing required on site. To enter, visitors must be vaccinated or have a negative PCR test.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE), which has a population of 10 million people, has seen a fast decline in coronavirus cases in recent weeks, with the number of cases dropping below 300 on Sunday, less than half of what it was a fortnight ago.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, has promised the fair will be “the most spectacular Expo in the history of the event.”
According to official media, he added, “Our nation’s talented citizens were able to transform this vision into a complete strategy for success, sending a message to the world that our commitment to excellence makes us a key contributor to molding the globe’s future.”
The fair is yet another feather in Dubai’s cap, which has long sought international acclaim for achievements such as the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest structure at 828 meters.
The National wondered aloud, “Has Expo 2020 become Burj Khalifa the new Eiffel Tower?” after a travel firm survey labelled the building the world’s most searched landmark.
“A sense of global spectacle has always been at the heart of World Expo, and the UAE’s built environment is well positioned to provide it,” according to a newspaper editorial piece.
In one way, the postponement has benefited the UAE, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary of independence on December 2.
As the clock ticked down to the delayed launch, workers at the site were putting the last touches on infrastructure and facilities.
The Harlem Globetrotters and a Chinese mechanical panda are among the many attractions at Expo, which is set to attract a slew of politicians, business executives, celebrities, and athletes.
One of the displays is a full-scale hyperloop cabin, which is being hailed as the future of long-distance travel and transportation, while Egypt has brought in an old pharaonic coffin.
One of the largest pavilions is China’s, which is an LED-lit lamp-shaped structure, while Morocco’s is constructed using traditional mud-building techniques.
The Dutch have an edible plant pyramid that is irrigated by solar-generated rainwater.
The main themes of the Expo are opportunity, mobility, and sustainability, and the site is centered on the magnificent Al Wasl (“Connection”) Plaza, which will be illuminated by 360-degree projections on its massive dome.
On Friday, the fairgrounds will be available to the public.