WELLINGTON: New Zealand will use virtual digital platforms to host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit next year, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Tuesday, amid uncertainty around travel due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“What we’ve done is we’ve determined that actually for the sake of certainty, let’s just plan for that virtual gathering,” Ardern said at a media briefing in Wellington. “That means that we don’t have the added cost, the added disruption that the uncertainty of COVID brings.”
Earlier this month, New Zealand lifted all social and economic restrictions except border controls, after declaring it was free of the coronavirus.
Ardern said the country has no plans to reopen its borders now as infection rates around the world were still going up. “There is a time in the future we’ll be opening our borders but to suggest that time is now when the virus is getting worse is frankly dangerous,” she said.
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New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said the global disruption caused by COVID-19 including border restrictions had been a major factor in the decision.
He said given the current global environment, planning to have a large volume of high-level visitors in New Zealand from late this year is impractical.
Although the event would not take place until November 2021, holding an in-person event would have required thousands of people to come into the country, some from COVID-19 hotspots.
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“This decision to ‘go virtual’ is a pragmatic solution which preserves New Zealand’s long-standing commitment to host APEC 2021,” said the foreign minister.
New Zealand has so far escaped a high number of casualties from the virus, with nearly 1,200 confirmed infections and 22 deaths. Leaders of the 21 member countries were to gather for the APEC 2021 summit in New Zealand at the end of next year.
The coronavirus outbreak has also forced this year’s summit host, Malaysia, to postpone a series of pre-event meetings but it remains committed to hold the summit in November.