Tickets to the Beijing Winter Olympics will not be sold to the general public, but distributed to “targeted” groups, organisers have announced, in China’s latest attempt to control the spread of the highly-infectious Omicron Covid variant.
Beijing reported its first locally transmitted Omicron case over the weekend, piling renewed pressure on authorities in the run-up to the Games, which are due to start on 4 February and coincide with the lunar new year celebrations week, typically the biggest travel period of the year.
Organisers of the Winter Olympics previously said the Games would be kept in a “closed loop”, meaning that only a limited number of spectators would be allowed in venues. Overseas spectators will not be allowed to enter the country, and personnel involved in the Games will have to avoid contact with people outside the loop.
On Monday, the organisers cited the “severe and complex” Covid-19 situation and the need to protect the safety of Olympics personnel and spectators in an announcement.
“In order to protect the health and safety of Olympic-related personnel and spectators, it was decided to adjust the original plan to sell tickets to the public and [instead] organise spectators to watch the Games on site,” they said.
Local spectators who receive tickets must observe strict Covid prevention measures before, during and after attending Olympic events, the organising committee said, without giving further details, or specifying how tickets would be distributed.
China’s attempts to enforce its “zero-Covid” containment policy are threatened by the Omicron variant.
On Monday, authorities urged citizens not to order goods from overseas, after they claimed that a recent Omicron infection detected in Beijing had come from an international package sent from Canada. China has claimed that numerous Covid infections throughout the pandemic have come from imported products – often cold chain items – but experts say the scientific basis for such claims is weak.
Last month North America’s national hockey league said its players would not participate in the Beijing Winter Olympics due to Covid disruptions of the league schedule.
The latest information on the first Omicron case in Beijing came hours before President Xi Jinping vowed to present a “streamlined, safe and splendid Games to the world” in his keynote speech at the Davos economic forum.
Chinese health authorities on Monday reported 223 cases from the previous 24 hours to midnight, including 163 local transmissions. The majority were in Tianjin, where mainland China’s first Omicron case was identified on 9 December.
The authorities said 79 of its 80 cases in Tianjin were found in Jinnan district, and 68 in Henan province, of which 60 were in the locked-down city of Anyang. One case reported in the southern city of Shenzhen, bordering Hong Kong, was confirmed as Omicron.
Additional reporting by Reuters