The World Economic Forum is planning to go ahead with its annual meeting of the global elite in Davos, Switzerland, next month, even as coronavirus cases spike around the world.
“We are hopeful that Delta will be on its way down by the time of our annual meeting, and we are hoping that the Omicron wave will not be as bad as some people think,” Peter Vanham, a spokesman for the organization, said on Thursday. “But everything depends on the pandemic.”
Mr. Vanham said a final decision on whether to cancel the event — which drew roughly 3,000 people before the pandemic — will be made by Jan. 6, 10 days before it is scheduled to start.
For more than 50 years, the World Economic Forum has brought together luminaries from the worlds of business, politics and nonprofit organizations to the Alps for a weeklong series of lectures, panel discussions and dinners. At the event, held in an upscale ski resort town, world leaders mingle with the chief executives from many of the world’s largest companies and the top bosses of Wall Street. Thousands more gather to attend unofficial conferences, dinners and parties on the sidelines of the main meeting.
The last time people gathered in Davos was in January 2020, when many executives heard about Covid-19 for the first time. Much of the world shut down roughly two months later, and the 2021 gathering was canceled.
But for the past several months, the World Economic Forum, which is based in Geneva, has been making plans to proceed with its annual meeting much as it had before the pandemic. The organizers have begun transforming Davos into labyrinth of high-security event spaces that includes a conference center, several hotels and a long stretch of the town’s main street.
“We’re well into the phase where our sunk costs are being made,” Mr. Vanham said. “That’s a decision in itself — to prepare fully for next month, even if that means that in two or three weeks we might be confronted with a late cancellation because of Omicron. But we are definitely full steam ahead at this point.”
The event’s organizers were emboldened by the fact that the Delta variant, which had sent average daily coronavirus cases in Switzerland to their highest level of the pandemic not long ago, had crested. Omicron, which Mr. Vanham called “the X factor,” has introduced uncertainly recently. “We will know just how bad that X factor is by the end of the year,” he said.
Official attendance for the January event will be reduced by a fifth, Mr. Vanham said. He added that hotels in Davos were also expecting roughly 30 to 50 percent fewer attendees than in previous years.
Still, thousands of attendees are planning to attend, including the chief executives of companies like Verizon, AstraZeneca and IBM. The leaders of at least three Wall Street banks, who often speak on the forum’s main stage, are still planning to attend for now, according to executives with knowledge of their banks’ plans.
Bankers, who often use the forum to network with clients, are scheduling meetings for now and postponing the decision on whether to attend or cancel until closer to Jan. 16, when the event is slated to begin.
Should the event go ahead, the organizers will install stringent measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. All those who attend the official meeting are required to be vaccinated and have a negative PCR test within 72 hours of flying to Switzerland. Once they land in the country, they have to take another test and will only receive their credentials if they test negative.
And once the meeting begins, the organizers are planning to require attendees to take PCR tests every 24 or 48 hours at one of 14 on-site testing centers.