Dubai Expo 2020 could be delayed for a year to allow global tourism and business industries to recover from the coronavirus outbreak.
Dubai's organisers said they were in talks with participating countries and the world fair's governing body, the Bureau International des Expositions, to determine whether it should be run at a new date.
On Monday, officials said they agreed to explore "the possibility of a one-year delay to the opening of Expo 2020".
A final decision can only be made by the bureau and the general assembly of nations.
The announcement followed a virtual meeting of the Expo 2020 steering committee, representing UAE officials and foreign countries set to exhibit at the Expo.
“While they remain firmly committed to Expo 2020, many countries have been significantly impacted by Covid-19," said Reem Al Hashimy, Director General of Dubai Expo 2020 and Minister of State for International Co-operation.
"They have therefore expressed a need to postpone the opening of Expo 2020 Dubai by one year to enable them to overcome this challenge.
"The UAE and Expo 2020 Dubai have listened. We supported the proposal to explore a one-year postponement at today’s steering committee meeting.
"We look forward to welcoming the world, which we are certain will only come out of this pressing challenge stronger and more resilient than it ever was."
News of the talks came after the decision to postpone the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games until next year.
The Uefa Euro 2020 football, which was due to be shared by major European cities with the finals held in London, was also pushed back to June and July next year.
Billed as the "world’s greatest show", the Expo was expected to welcome 25 million visitors from October 20, with 70 per cent of them from outside the UAE.
Countries across the globe are in lockdown, with more than 750,000 cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, confirmed worldwide. More than 36,000 people have died.
The situation has led to travel restrictions and unprecedented demands on governments, budgets and resources.
Dimitri Kerkentzes, secretary general of Expos bureau, said he was "confident that we will collectively overcome the challenges caused by this global crisis".
"The UAE’s decision to support a one-year postponement demonstrates pragmatism, openness and commitment to delivering an Expo that lives up to our shared ambition," Mr Kerkentzes said.
"We retain full confidence in the UAE’s ability to host a world Expo that inspires and delights millions, when the time is right.”
Officials hope that holding the event next year will bring nations together after months of isolation and difficulties.
The possible postponement was described as a necessary call in tough times.
The heads of countries' pavilions said safety took precedence.
"It's a question of choosing between two difficult options and giving the primacy to safety and health," Navdeep Suri, chairman of India's Expo committee, told The National.
India pledged $50 million (Dh183.6m) for one of the largest pavilions, featuring an image of Mahatma Gandhi on its facade.
"It is an eminently sensible decision," Mr Suri said. "It shows that the safety of people working on the Expo site and those who would be visiting is foremost in their minds.
"We understand the importance of the Dubai Expo project for the country but these are unprecedented times.
"It’s commendable the government has taken an early decision rather than risk last-minute disruptions.
"Now all participants, including India, can plan ahead and we look forward to continuing our close engagement.”
He said each country must deal with the fallout from prolonged lockdowns, including in India, where more than 1.3 billion people have been told to stay at home for 21 days.
Erik Linquier, Expo commissioner for France – one of Europe's hardest hit nations with 40,000 cases and more than 2,600 deaths – said the world would need to come together once the outbreak was under control.
"Gathering humanity in one place to celebrate all the things that unite us is something that will be more necessary than ever once this pandemic passes," Mr Linquier said.
"We remain fully committed to playing our part in making this a truly memorable World Expo that can be experienced and enjoyed by anyone.
"And so we fully agree with today’s collective decision to explore the best options for our Expo family.”
Abdullah Alshamsi, vice chancellor of the British University in Dubai and a leading structural engineer, said it was right to ensure the world fair was open to all.
“It is a sad decision for Dubai but the Expo should take place when people have access to it from all around the world,” Mr Alshamsi said.
“This is not only for the benefit of the UAE or Dubai but for all countries taking part."
The investment and vast network of roads, bridges and Metro connections built in preparation for the arrival of millions of visitors would remain the foundation for future growth in the south of the city.
“The Expo lasts for six months. The infrastructure created is for the whole country," Mr Alshamsi said.
"For the time being, businesses may close and scale down but when things cool down, this infrastructure that is being built will encourage people to restart their businesses here.”
Work has been largely halted across the 4.38 square kilometre site in Dubai South, as it has been with many projects, officials said.
More than 30,000 building staff were in place to finish the site and well as striking pavilions for each nation.
In the UAE, there were 611 cases of coronavirus as of Monday, with five deaths reported. Just over 60 people have recovered.
The government has increased measures to control the spread of virus in the country, with all passenger flights suspended.
The first World Expo to take place in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia was gearing up to prepare daily events over 173 days, with 192 nations participating.
Dubai's theme centred on innovation, with countries and companies set to display projects in areas such as green energy, artificial intelligence and accessibility.
Dubai's Expo is expected to be the biggest world fair in decades, with a record number of countries taking part, including some financially supported by the organisers and government.