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China limits torch relay for Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics over COVID fears

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China limits torch relay for Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics over COVID fears

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BEIJING (AP) — China is limiting the torch relay for the Winter Olympics to just three days amid coronavirus concerns, organizers said Friday.

The flame will only be displayed in enclosed venues deemed “safe and controllable”, according to officials.

No public transport routes would be disrupted and normal life would continue for the 20 million residents of the capital, where a handful of new COVID-19 cases have been recorded in recent days.

Beijing deputy sports director Yang Haibin said safety was the “top priority”, with the pandemic, venue preparations and the possibility of wildfires in Beijing’s cold, dry climate all taken into account.

The relay will take place from February 2 to 4 and will cover the three competition areas of downtown Beijing, suburban Yanqing and Zhangjiakou in neighboring Hebei Province.

The Games have already been impacted on a scale similar to that suffered by Tokyo during last year’s Summer Olympics.

China says only selected spectators will be allowed to attend events, and Olympic athletes, officials, staff and journalists are required to stay in a bubble that bars them from contact with the general public.

The opening of the Games comes just days after the start of the Lunar New Year holiday, China’s biggest annual celebration when millions of people traditionally travel to their hometowns for family reunions. For the second year, the government has advised people living away from home to stay put, and train and air travel has been curtailed.

Torch rally participants will undergo health checks and be closely monitored, starting two weeks before the start of the event, said Xu Zhijun, deputy head of the organizing committee.

Beijing reported its first local omicron infection on Jan. 15, and 11 cases had been confirmed in the capital by Thursday afternoon, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Outside Beijing, several million people remain locked down as part of China’s ‘zero tolerance’ approach to dealing with the pandemic that has been credited with preventing US-wide outbreaks. and other countries.

The number of new cases has dropped significantly in recent days under strict adherence to mask-wearing, travel restrictions and school closures, as well as a vaccination rate that now exceeds 85%. Some medical experts fear that a lack of exposure to the virus could harm the Chinese population’s ability to cope with future waves of infection.

The scaled-down Torch Relay is a far cry from 2008, when Beijing sent the Olympic icon on a global journey before hosting that year’s Summer Games. The relay has drawn protesters against China’s human rights abuses and policies in Tibet, Xinjiang and elsewhere, leading to violent clashes and the cancellation of some overseas stages.

The Winter Games have been plagued by similar political controversies, alongside medical considerations.

Six weeks ago, the United States, Britain and several allies said they would not send dignitaries to attend the Games in protest against the regime’s human rights abuses. Communist Party.

Athletes have been threatened by the organizing committee with ‘certain punishments’ for saying or doing anything to offend their Chinese hosts, while several delegations have urged anyone traveling to Beijing to pick up ‘hot’ phones at the instead of their personal devices due to concerns about their personal information. could be compromised.

The National Hockey League cited the uncertainty caused by the pandemic to retain all of its players from the Olympic tournament.

And earlier this week, US broadcaster NBC said it would not send teams of announcers to China, citing the same virus concerns raised when the network pulled most of its broadcasters from the Tokyo Games.

China limits torch relay for Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics over COVID fears

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