BEIJING (AP), — Organisers announced Friday that China has decided to limit the torch relay for the Winter Olympics from China to three days due to coronavirus concerns.
Officials have ruled that the flame can only be displayed in enclosed spaces that are “safe and manageable.”
There would be no disruption to public transit and normal life for the capital’s 20 million inhabitants. However, a few COVID-19 cases were reported in recent days.
Yang Haibin, Beijing’s deputy sports director said safety was the “top priority” with the pandemic and venue preparations as well as the possibility of forest fires due to Beijing’s dry, cold climate.
The relay will take place from February 2 to 4, and include the competition areas of downtown Beijing as well as Yanqing (suburb) and Zhangjiakou (northern province of Hebei).
Already, the Games have had an impact similar to last year’s Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
China has stated that only select spectators will be permitted to the Olympics. Olympic officials, staff, and journalists must remain in a bubble to avoid contact with the public.
The Games’ opening comes days after the Lunar New Year holiday in China, which is China’s largest annual celebration. During this time millions of Chinese families travel back to their homes for reunions. The government advised people living far away to stay put for the second consecutive year. Train and plane travel have been restricted.
Xu Zhijun (deputy head of the organizing committee) stated that participants in the torch rally will be subject to health screenings and closely monitored starting two weeks prior to the event.
Beijing had its first local omicron infected on January 15, and eleven cases were confirmed in Beijing as of Thursday afternoon, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
Many millions of people are still under lockdown outside of Beijing as part of China’s “zero tolerance” approach to fighting the pandemic. This has been credited for preventing outbreaks of the same scale in other countries.
The number of cases has dropped significantly in recent days due to strict compliance with travel restrictions, school closures and masking. A vaccination rate of 85% is also in place. Medical experts fear that the Chinese population may not be exposed to the virus enough to prevent future outbreaks.
This torch relay is far removed from 2008 when Beijing sent the Olympic icon on an international journey in preparation for hosting that year’s Summer Games. Protesters in China against China’s policies and violations of human rights in Tibet, Xinjiang, and elsewhere led to violent confrontations, and even the cancellation of stages overseas.
Similar political controversies have plagued the Winter Games, as well as medical concerns.
Six weeks ago, the United States of America, Britain, and several allies declared that they would not send dignitaries for the Games in protest against the Communist Party’s human rights violations.
The organizing committee threatened athletes with “certain punishments” if they said or did anything that would offend Chinese hosts. Several delegations also urged those heading to Beijing to bring “burner” phones to avoid any personal data being compromised.
The National Hockey League claimed that the pandemic caused uncertainty to keep all its players away from the Olympic tournament.
Earlier this week, NBC, an American broadcaster, announced that it would not send announcing teams from China. This was in response to the virus concerns raised by the network’s withdrawal of most of its broadcasters at the Tokyo Games.