WEF postpones Davos 2021 over coronavirus fears

The World Economic Forum has abandoned plans to hold its annual meeting in the Swiss mountain town of Davos next January, pushing the landmark event in global power brokers’ calendars back to the summer of 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Klaus Schwab, the WEF’s founder and executive chairman, told the Financial Times in June that there was “enthusiastic support” among its members for holding the meeting at its usual time, touting the idea as part of a necessary return to “a new normality”. 

On Wednesday, however, WEF managing director Adrian Monck said it had received expert advice that it could not safely hold the event in January.

The forum, which last moved its annual meeting — to New York — after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, said it would confirm the dates and location of its next meeting once it was sure it could guarantee the health and safety of its participants.

The WEF, which is run as a not-for-profit organisation, said in its last annual report that the Davos meeting generated 13 per cent of its SFr344m ($378.5m) revenues in 2019, warning that a cancellation “could have negative consequences on the foundation’s revenue”.

Holding the meeting in “early summer”, as the WEF now intends, should however still allow it to contribute to a fiscal year which runs to the end of June.

The forum is one of many organisations whose finances depend heavily on their annual gatherings, and are now scrambling for ways to replace the lost income. Conference industry executives say that attendees have been reluctant to pay as much for digital events as for the chance to network in person.

The WEF’s 2020 annual meeting took place as business leaders were just beginning to understand that the viral outbreak that had started in China could become a global threat.

“I had this nightmare that somehow in Davos, all of us who went there got it. And then we all left and spread it. The only good news from that is that it might just have killed the elite,” Jamie Dimon, chairman and chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, joked later.

Mr Schwab dismissed that as a possibility in his interview with the FT, noting that Switzerland’s first case of Covid-19 was not recorded until nearly a month after the meeting had ended.

The decision to reschedule next year’s event comes as the global death toll from coronavirus surpasses 820,000, with the caseload approaching 24m.

“The decision was not taken easily, since the need for global leaders to come together to design a common recovery path and shape the Great Reset in the post-Covid-19 era is so urgent,” Mr Monck said. 

The WEF will instead hold a digital “Davos dialogues” event during the week of January 25, at which leading figures will discuss the state of the world in 2021. 

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