The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics will be open to spectators – but only if they live in mainland China, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said Wednesday, as organizers gave a first glimpse into the country’s plans to hold the event while enforcing a strict zero-Covid strategy.
Under Covid-19 protocols unveiled by the IOC, the Games will be held in a bubble in the Chinese capital from February 4 to 20, as Beijing becomes the first city to host both the Summer and Winter Olympics.
The bubble – in place from January 23 until the end of the Winter Paralympics on March 13 – will cover all stadiums and competition venues, as well as accommodation, catering, and the opening and closing ceremonies. It will also have its own transport system.
“Within the closed loop, participants will be allowed to move only between Games-related venues for training, competitions and work,” the IOC said.
Athletes and other participants who are fully vaccinated will be allowed to enter the bubble without quarantine. Those who are not fully vaccinated, meanwhile, will have to spend 21 days in quarantine upon arrival.
A Chinese version of the protocols cited by state media said “all athletes who are eligible to be vaccinated should be vaccinated,” while other participants can choose either full vaccination or 21 days of centralized quarantine.
While vaccination against Covid-19 will not be required by the IOC, Team USA has mandated that its entire traveling membership are vaccinated.
The IOC statement said “athletes who can provide a justified medical exemption will have their cases considered,” adding that all vaccines recognized by the World Health Organization or approved by the countries or regions concerned will be accepted.
All domestic and international participants and staff in the bubble will be tested daily for Covid-19, according to the IOC statement.
Overseas fan ban
During the Tokyo Summer Olympics this year, Japan did not allow fans in the stands, as the Japanese capital was placed under a state of emergency amid surging infections.
The IOC welcomed the decision to admit spectators in Beijing, while acknowledging disappointment that fans from outside mainland China would be banned.
“This will facilitate the growth of winter sports in China by giving those spectators a first-hand Olympic and Paralympic experience of elite winter sports, as well as bringing a favourable atmosphere to the venues,” it said.
Specific Covid-19 safety requirements and ticketing arrangements for spectators are still under discussion, the organizers said, adding that more information will be released in late October and December.
Apart from challenges posed by the pandemic, the Beijing Games also face intense political pressure.
They are shaping up to be the most controversial Olympics in recent years, as calls grow for a diplomatic boycott over Beijing’s alleged human rights abuses in the western region of Xinjiang, where the US State Department says up to 2 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities are believed to have been placed in a sprawling network of detention centers.
China has repeatedly denied allegations of human rights abuses, saying the centers are necessary to prevent religious extremism and terrorism.