Beijing Winter Olympics challenge China’s zero outbreak policy

Just two weeks before the opening of China’s first Winter Olympics, Beijing issued a warning aimed at maintaining the country’s strict adherence to a zero-virus policy.

Citizens should avoid any contact with vehicles transporting runners and officials, who will spend the Olympics in so-called “bubbles” to avoid contagion to the rest of the country, the Department of Transportation said. In the event of an accident, they should wait for professionals to arrive, rather than step in to help.

The decree is one of many strict measures taken to avoid a coronavirus outbreak at the Olympics.The event, which was supposed to be the crowning achievement of China’s rise 14 years after the Beijing Summer Olympics, is becoming a test of the country’s eradicate epidemics.

China is the last country in the world to remain committed to a zero Covid-19 policy, but the strategy is under pressure after the authorities Lock millions Residents break out in the country and growing doubt on the efficacy of its homemade vaccine.

Beyond the pandemic, criticism of the host country’s human rights record has sparked a U.S.-led diplomatic boycott. Athletes have also been warned about Beijing’s cybersecurity plans for the most closed Games in history, and Canadian Olympians were told to keep their personal tech devices at home.

China has reported relatively few infections compared to other countries, but cases have increased over the past month, peaking on Dec. 27 when authorities reported 361 confirmed infections, the most in a single day since early 2020 of. Confirmed cases fell to 73 on Thursday.

But officials remain firmly committed to eradicating the virus, believing it will protect the country From a highly transmissible variant of Omicron.

Compared with last year’s Tokyo Summer Olympics, the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee has much stricter rules for competitors. Athletes, sports officials and the media are encouraged to fully vaccinate before arrival or face a 21-day quarantine. All participants’ health data will be tracked and they will be tested for PCR at least once a day.

The sports extravaganza will take place in a closed loop, separating foreign arrivals and local staff from the rest of China, and overseas participants must depart on charter flights pre-approved by the Beijing 2022 committee. Audience will be limited to groups invited by the organizer.

Preliminary data from the closed-loop system, which opened this month, showed that only 1.53 percent of certified participants who arrived in the two weeks to January 19 tested positive, according to the International Olympic Committee and Beijing 2022. The rate is 0.02%.

But restrictions and concerns about the spread of the coronavirus forced the media to take extraordinary measures.

NBC, the U.S. broadcast rights holder that pays more than $1 billion for each Olympics, said none of its broadcasters would travel to the Games but would comment at company headquarters. Sports network ESPN did not send any reporters.

“We said Tokyo was going to be one of the most challenging Olympics of our lives — and I took that back,” said Molly Solomon, president and executive producer of NBC’s Olympic coverage. “Beijing is unique in this regard.”

“These are extraordinary times, and this will be a very extraordinary Winter Olympics,” said IOC spokesman Mark Adams.

“Internally, we are very nervous about this incident,” said a local Chinese government official. “We need to create a smooth event without triggering a virus outbreak. That’s a big challenge.”

In addition to the ongoing threat of Covid-19, the incident has also been targeted by foreign governments for alleged human rights abuses in China.Countries such as the US, Canada, UK and Australia have announced diplomatic boycott More than a million Uyghurs are being held in concentration camps in protest over Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang.

National Speed ​​Skating Elliptical

China builds new venues, including the National Speed ​​Skating Oval, to host the Olympics © Mark Schiefelbein/AP

A Beijing 2022 official said athletes expressing political views could face “certain punishment”.

Australian Sports Minister Richard Colbeck, Tell The Sydney Morning Herald called the comments “extremely worrying” and said the country’s athletes were entitled to their opinions.

Sports group Human Rights Watch has previously called for the IOC’s top sponsors Leverage their financial clout to address the repression of the Uyghurs.But corporate partners have avoid problems About their attitude towards the Beijing Olympics.

Many human rights advocates have urged Olympians not to make political speeches.

“We advise athletes not to speak out,” said Rob Koehler, director general of Global Athlete, an international athlete advocacy group. “Play, go home, talk when you go home. It’s a sad statement, we even have to say it.”

Maximilian Klein, sports policy representative for the German independent sports association Athleten Deutschland, warned that speaking up could have repercussions in China.he points recent treatment Tennis star Peng Shuai, a three-time Olympian, has largely disappeared from public view after she claimed she was sexually assaulted by a senior Chinese official.

The IOC was criticized after IOC president Thomas Bach made a 30-minute video call with Peng and said she was “safe and sound”. Bach said he would meet Peng in Beijing before the Olympics.

“We have seen from the Peng Shuai case that the IOC is neither willing nor able to protect athletes in the Olympic movement,” Klein said.

But for athletes, just participating in the Beijing event is a feat in itself.

American snowboarder and three-time gold medalist Sean White is one of several stars who have contracted Covid-19 in recent weeks. He will compete in his fifth Olympics after narrowly qualifying this month after his recovery.

“I’m thankful that I started testing negative before this game, so I was allowed to play,” he said. “That’s going to be a really frustrating position, you know, it’s the last qualifier and I can’t ride.”

Additional reporting by Wang Xueqiao in Shanghai

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