DUBAI: A general view shows the opening ceremony of the Dubai Expo 2020 yesterday. – AFP photos

DUBAI: Dubai opened its extravagant Expo 2020 yesterday with a flashy ceremony boasting fireworks and lights displays as it attempts to woo the world despite the pandemic. The domed Al Wasl Plaza, centerpiece of the vast Expo site, was lit by spectacular projections as Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum declared the $7 billion event open. "The entire world gathers in the UAE as we inaugurate together, with the blessing of Allah, Expo 2020 Dubai," Sheikh Hamdan said.

It kicks off a six-month world fair attended by more than 190 countries. Organizers are hoping for 25 million visits to Expo 2020, the first in the Middle East, which is set to be the most attended event since the pandemic. This year's Tokyo Olympics went ahead largely without fans. However, travel restrictions remain in place around the globe during a spectacle that was conceived pre-COVID-19 and is starting a year late.

Themes of sustainability and the planet's future were prevalent in the lavish show at Al Wasl Plaza, centerpiece of the vast Expo site which sprawls across an area twice the size of Monaco. Futuristic constructions dot the purpose-built showground in the Dubai suburbs, where countries are bidding to outdo each other for ingenuity and innovation.

Patchy record

The first world exhibition was held in London in 1851, when it was housed in the newly built Crystal Palace. The Paris edition of 1889 featured the Eiffel Tower, then intended as a temporary attraction. Expo 2020 will be unmistakably tinged by the pandemic, with masks and social distancing mandatory on site. Visitors need to be vaccinated or have a negative PCR test to enter.

Dubai opens glitzy Expo with extravagant show
Dubai opens glitzy Expo with extravagant show
Dubai opens glitzy Expo with extravagant show

The United Arab Emirates, population 10 million, has reported a rapid drop in coronavirus cases, falling below 300 this week - less than half the figure a fortnight earlier. Dubai, one of the UAE's seven emirates, has long strived for international recognition with projects such as the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building at 828 m.

Workers have been putting the final touches on infrastructure and facilities at the site this week as the clock ticked down to the delayed launch. A succession of politicians, business leaders, celebrities and sports people are expected at the Expo, whose diverse attractions include the Harlem Globetrotters and a Chinese robot panda.

A full-scale hyperloop cabin, touted as the future of long-distance travel and transport, is among the exhibits, while Egypt has sent an ancient coffin from pharaonic days. China has one of the largest pavilions - a LED-lit, lamp-shaped creation - while Morocco's is made with traditional mud-building methods. The Zionist entity is also taking part, a year after the UAE and the Zionist state normalized ties. - AFP