The counter is running. One hundred days before the start of the events in Beijing, epidemic prevention will be “the number one challenge” of the Winter Olympics, the organizers of the competition acknowledged on Wednesday. The Imperial City will become the first city in the world to host both summer (in 2008) and winter games, from February 4 to 20.
Last week, the Olympic flame was handed over to China at a ceremony in Athens, which sparked a protest by activists denouncing the presence of the communist regime in Tibet. But in addition to human rights issues, the competitions risk being dominated by the fight against Covid-19, six months after the Tokyo summer games postponed by a year due to the epidemic.
In this context, the Chinese authorities, who follow a policy of zero contamination, have taken great steps to eradicate a very limited epidemic outbreak in recent days in the north of the country. On Tuesday, the large city of Lanzhou, located 1,700 km west of Beijing, quarantined its 4 million inhabitants, invited to stay at home unless absolutely necessary, following the discovery of a few dozen case.
The 2022 games in a “bubble”
“The pandemic is the number one challenge for the running of the winter games,” the vice-president of the organizing committee, Zhang Jiandong, summed up to the press. A dozen provinces, or a third of the total, have stepped up prevention measures, including the city of Beijing where 20 cases of contamination have been counted in the past week. The measures planned during the games “will reduce the risk and impact of the coronavirus,” added Zhang Jiandong, while warning that participants who do not observe the rules will be penalized.
The 2022 games will take place in a “bubble” intended to eliminate any risk of contamination to the rest of China. The 2,900 expected athletes must either have been fully vaccinated or undergo a strict 21-day quarantine upon arrival in the country. Only spectators already present in China will be able to attend the events. Authorities have planned 300 negative pressure ambulances to transport possible patients.
The first country affected by the pandemic, China practically stopped the virus in the spring of 2020 after the adoption of drastic measures to control residents. The country has virtually closed its borders to the rest of the world.