Expo 2020 Dubai: Omicron will not dampen visitor numbers, says official

All Expo staff and volunteers take frequent PCR tests to prevent the spread of infections at the world fair



Photo: Expo 2020 Dubai
Photo: Expo 2020 Dubai
by

Anjana Sankar

Published: Sat 22 Jan 2022, 3:00 PM

Last updated: Sat 22 Jan 2022, 10:42 PM

The rise of Omicron cases across the world will not affect visitor numbers to Expo 2020 Dubai, a top official at the world fair has said.

Organisers remain vigilant to ensure a safe experience until the last day of the fair. In fact, the second half is expected to attract even bigger crowds to the mega event that already clocked 10 million visitors in three months, said Sconaid McGeachin, senior vice-president of communications at Expo 2020 Dubai.

“We are never relaxed (about safety protocols), and we are very vigilant and listening to safety advices by DHA, and ministry and the WHO guidelines,” she said in an exclusive interview with Khaleej Times.

“Typically, the BIE advice with the Expos is that numbers will ramp in the second half of the Expo as people realise that time is running out,” she said, adding that travel uncertainties due to the pandemic still make it “difficult to predict.”

Looking back on the overwhelming response for Expo 2020, which officially opened its doors on October 1, 2021, McGeachin said “it has been remarkable.”

“We are very proud with the numbers. We have got very strong programming and we believe that our numbers will remain strong in the coming months. And our focus remains to ensure we offer a safe and exceptional Expo to everybody.”

“When people are coming in, they feel safe. It is a true testament that Expo 2020 has brought people and communities together true to our theme Connecting Minds, Building the Future," she said.

McGeachin credits it to the UAE’s efficient handling of the pandemic and the high rate of vaccination.

“In December, we had a large number of international tourists coming to Dubai. It is testament to the UAE and the way they have managed the pandemic, and really ensured the safety of not just the residents but also people who have come from all around the world, as well. That stands in good stead for Expo, too,” she said.

The UAE has one the world’s highest vaccination rates, with authorities reporting that over 99 per cent of eligible residents have received at least one dose. Booster shots have also been rolled out in the country to ensure residents are protected against the new variant.

Doing everything for safety

The new wave of infections in the country had caused concerns at Expo 2020, with organisers ramping up precautionary measures.

In December, authorities announced that "venues may close temporarily for deep cleaning and sanitisation in response to positive cases detected by extensive workforce testing protocols, as well as for maintenance, private events and staff shortages".

In December, a restaurant named Sushiro, part of the Japanese pavilion, shut down temporarily after several staff members tested positive for Covid-19.

Previously, close contact events, such as roving entertainers and parades, were suspended. Also, several pavilions have made a 48-hour negative PCR test mandatory for visitors. Media also need to present PCR test to access the Expo media centre as per the current safety protocols.

McGeachin said they are doing everything possible to ensure the safety of visitors and staff.

“We working very closely with the Dubai Health Authority and the Federal ministry and obviously following the guidance of the World Health Organisation. Everything we have done to the run up and during the Expo is very much based on medical and scientific data. In that way, we are carrying out our responsibilities toward everyone who has gathered here," she said.

According to her, frequent tests on frontline workers, Expo staff, volunteers, F&B and pavilion staff have helped to prevent the spread of infections at the Expo site.

Without revealing the number of infections detected at the Expo site, the official said it has not caused any major concern.

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“There is mandatory wearing of masks, whether it is indoors or outdoors. We are encouraging social distancing, and sanitization stations are available around the site,” she said.

Regarding the closure of certain pavilions, McGeachin said it has been only temporary.

“Where we have had any cases of Covid, we have temporarily shut down pavilions for deep cleaning and sanitisation.” she said.

The official said Expo 2020 will stick to the current protocol of limiting entry to vaccinated visitors and those with a 72-hour validity negative PCR test as of now, but is closely monitoring the situation.


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