World Economic Forum gives up on in-person meeting in Singapore

The World Economic Forum has been forced to scrap its plans for an in-person annual meeting again, cancelling a gathering planned for August in Singapore as new Covid-19 outbreaks prompted the city state to impose new restrictions. 

“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 realise a global meeting . . . at the scale which was planned,” the WEF said on Monday.

The forum’s annual gathering of executives and policymakers usually takes place in Davos, Switzerland, in January, but the WEF had already delayed it and moved it in the hope of keeping delegates safe. Last October it had decided the annual meeting would be in Lausanne in May and then last December it changed the venue to Singapore and the date to August. 

“It was a difficult decision, particularly in view of the great interest of our partners to come together not just virtually but in person,” said Klaus Schwab, the WEF’s founder. The forum said it would now hold its next annual meeting “in the first half of 2022”, but would not decide on the location and date until later this summer. 

The cancellation comes a day after Singapore reimposed stringent distancing measures following a jump in Covid-19 cases. 

On Sunday it banned in-person restaurant dining and limited social gatherings to two people after reporting new clusters of infections in recent weeks, including one at Changi airport that could involve the more easily transmissible B.1.617.2 coronavirus variant that was first discovered in India. A separate cluster at a Singaporean hospital includes this variant.

Singapore on Monday also deferred a travel bubble with Hong Kong that was set to open on May 26 “in light of the recent increase in unlinked community cases”, its transport ministry said in a statement. This is the second time an attempt to resume flights between the Asian financial hubs has been delayed.

The resurgence of infections in Singapore follows months of single-digit or no locally transmitted daily infections. 

It is still set to host the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Shangri-La Dialogue, a two-day defence summit that marks the first big international event in Singapore since the start of the pandemic last year.

Scheduled to take place in person from June 4, the annual conference attracts diplomats, senior military officials and weapons manufacturers. Lloyd Austin, the US defence secretary, is among the confirmed attendees.

“The World Economic Forum’s decision does not affect our plans,” IISS said, pledging to work with Singapore’s government to adjust safety measures as needed. “We have a full line-up of ministers and other senior leaders from around the world planning to attend our event.”

Singapore’s ministry of trade and industry said in a statement that it appreciated the “challenges” caused by Covid-19 “particularly for a large meeting with a broad span of international participants”.

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