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WEF calls off Singapore summit over pandemic

The World Economic Forum cancelled a summer version of its annual meeting in Singapore and pushed its annual Davos meeting to "the first half of 2022."

Singapore's Marina Bay Sands luxury hotel and convention center
Singapore's Marina Bay Sands luxury hotel and convention center (AN/Fabio Achilli)

GENEVA (AN) — The World Economic Forum announced on Monday it has canceled a summer version of its annual meeting that was scheduled to be held in Singapore and pushed its annual meeting in Switzerland until "the first half of 2022."

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, WEF said its gathering of world leaders that was planned for the Southeast Asian nation — and that had already been postponed until mid-August, almost three months later than planned — would not be held after all, despite the "excellent support" that Singapore's government provided.

"Regretfully, the tragic circumstances unfolding across geographies, an uncertain travel outlook, differing speeds of vaccination rollout and the uncertainty around new variants combine to make it impossible to realize a global meeting with business, government and civil society leaders from all over the world at the scale which was planned," the Geneva-based international organization said.

The international organization is best known for its annual meeting at the Swiss resort town of Davos each year in late January. WEF said the next annual meeting would be held sometime during the first six months of next year, but the exact location and time were not yet determined.

This year's annual meeting in January was held virtually due to the pandemic. Five days of online meetings were rebranded as the "Davos Agenda." In-person annual meetings at Davos have been a regular occurrence since the 1970s, when WEF's founder and executive chairman, German economist and former business professor Klaus Schwab, began inviting leaders there.

“It was a difficult decision, particularly in view of the great interest of our partners to come together not just virtually but in person, and to contribute to a more resilient, more inclusive and more sustainable world,” Schwab said of canceling the Singapore meeting. “But ultimately the health and safety of everyone concerned is our highest priority.”

Virus concerns in Singapore

When it announced in February that the Singapore meeting was postponed, WEF said it still had confidence there was a "safe and effective" way to hold it, though global travel restrictions were adding to the planning difficulties.

WEF also said the Singapore meeting was to have been the "first global leadership summit to address the challenges of recovering from the pandemic and laying the basis for a more inclusive and sustainable world. It will bring leaders face-to-face to focus on shaping solutions to the most pressing challenges of our times." Explaining the postponement, Schwab said such a summit requires participation among "all global stakeholders."

Singapore temporarily suspended its “travel bubble” with Germany, Malaysia and South Korea due to concerns over new COVID-19 variants and a resurgence in global cases. The so-called "green lane" agreement mainly affects people living in partner nations traveling to and from Singapore for business.

The suspension resulted from a regular review of its border measures on the risks of importing and transmitting the virus from travelers, Singapore's foreign ministry said in a statement. Since the pandemic began early last year, the coronavirus has infected more than 163 million people and killed 3.3 million people worldwide. Almost 1.5 billion vaccine doses have been administered.

Singapore created an agreement with neighboring Malaysia last August, then one with South Korea in September and another one with Germany in October.

Singapore and Switzerland usually come out at or near the top among 140 nations in WEF's annual rankings of the world's most competitive economies. In December, however, WEF released a new version of the report that analyzed how 37 nations have responded to the pandemic.