The World Economic Forum has scrapped its plans to hold an in-person annual meeting in Davos next month, extending a two-year run of enforced changes of plan for the high-octane networking event amid continued uncertainty over the Omicron outbreak.
The annual gathering of executives, world leaders and activists had been due to take place between January 17 and January 21 in the Swiss ski resort that has become known for elite agenda-setting. A statement from the WEF said it would be replaced by a series of online sessions, with another in-person event planned for some time early in the summer of 2022.
The forum’s last in-person annual meeting took place in January 2020, just as Covid-19 was hitting the consciousness of its international attendees. Since then, the WEF had already been forced to change its meeting plans at least six times, scrapping alternative dates and locations from Singapore to the banks of Switzerland’s Lake Lucerne as the pandemic extended.
“Current pandemic conditions make it extremely difficult to deliver a global in-person meeting,” the forum said on Monday. “Despite the meeting’s stringent health protocols, the transmissibility of Omicron and its impact on travel and mobility have made deferral necessary.”
The plans for January’s meeting had been drawn up with strict safety protocols in mind. All participants had been told that they must be fully vaccinated against Covid and would need to take a PCR test 72 hours before arriving, another test to activate the badges that grant them access to the main event areas and hotels, and further tests every 48 hours.
With concern growing about Omicron’s risks to health and international travel, registrations had been running below the usual levels. As of last week, about 2,000 people had registered for the January meeting, about two-thirds of the number who attended the 2020 event.
A seven-page health and safety document had advised would-be Davos-goers to “avoid physical contact, including hugs and handshakes” and stipulated that only FFP2 masks, which protect against fine aerosol particles, would be accepted inside the event’s security zone, where “buffet concepts” would be replaced by individually packaged food portions.
Had the meeting gone ahead, any attendee who tested positive for Covid would have had their badge access deactivated and been forced to isolate until contacted by local authorities.
“The deferral of the annual meeting will not prevent progress through continued digital convening of leaders from business, government and civil society,” said Klaus Schwab, WEF’s founder and executive chair. “Public-private co-operation has moved forward throughout the pandemic and that will continue apace. We look forward to bringing global leaders together in person soon.”