Beijing Winter Olympics pose challenge to China’s no-life policy

Just over two weeks before China’s first Winter Olympics began, authorities in Beijing issued a warning aimed at maintaining the country’s strict adherence to the no-Covid policy.

The transport authority said that people should avoid contact with vehicles transporting participants and officials, who will use the Games in a so-called bubble designed to avoid any contagion. the rest of the country, the transport department said. In the event of an accident, they should wait for professionals to arrive rather than intervene to help.

The decree is one of many strict measures taken to avoid coronavirus outbreaks at the Olympics. The event is seen as a major achievement for a China that has risen 14 years after the Beijing Summer Olympics but is becoming a test of the country’s efforts. get rid of the pandemic.

China is the last country in the world to continue to commit to the No Sharing policy but the strategy is under the tension after the authorities lock millions of residents in the context of the outbreak of disease in the country and growing doubts on the effectiveness of domestically produced vaccines.

Along with the pandemic, criticism of the host country’s human rights record has prompted a US-led diplomatic boycott. Athletes have also been warned about Beijing’s cybersecurity plans for the most locked-down Olympics in history, with Canadian athletes being asked to leave their personal tech devices behind. theirs at home.

China has reported relatively few infections compared to other countries but cases have increased over the past month, peaking on December 27 when authorities reported 361 confirmed cases. infections, the most in a single day since early 2020. Confirmed cases fell to 73 on Thursday.

But officials remain steadfast in their commitment to eradicating the virus, believing it will protect the country from the highly infectious Omicron variant.

The Beijing organizers have imposed much stricter regulations on participants than at the Tokyo Summer Olympics last year. Athletes, sports officials and the media have been urged to be fully vaccinated prior to arrival or face a 21-day quarantine. All participants’ health data will be monitored and they will be PCR tested at least once a day.

The sports show will take place in a closed loop, separating foreign guests and local staff from the rest of China, with overseas participants required to depart on chartered aircraft. pre-approved by the Beijing 2022 committee. Audiences will be limited to groups invited by the organizers.

Preliminary data from the closed-loop, opened this month, shows that only 1.53% of accredited participants arriving in the two weeks to January 19 tested positive and transmission was 0.02. %, according to the International Olympic Committee and Beijing 2022.

But restrictions and worries about coronavirus transmission have forced media outlets to take special measures.

NBC, the owner of the US broadcast rights that it pays more than $1 billion for each Olympics, said none of its announcers would be going to the Olympics but would instead comment. from corporate headquarters. ESPN, the sports network, did not send any reporters.

“We said Tokyo was going to be one of the most challenging Olympics of our lives — I take that back,” said Molly Solomon, president and executive producer of NBC’s Olympic broadcaster. said. “Beijing is unique in this area.”

“These are extraordinary times and these will be extraordinary Winter Olympic Games,” said Mark Adams, a spokesman for the IOC.

“Internally, we are quite worried about this event,” said a local Chinese government official. “We need to create a smooth event that doesn’t spark the virus. That is a big challenge.”

In addition to the persistent threat of Covid-19, the event has been targeted by foreign governments over China’s alleged human rights abuses. The US, Canada, UK and Australia are among the countries that have announced diplomatic boycott to protest Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang, where more than 1 million Uighurs have been detained in camps.

National Speed ​​Skating Oval

China has built new venues, including the National Speed ​​Skating Oval House, to host the Olympics © Mark Schiefelbein / AP

A Beijing official in 2022 has suggested that athletes who express political views may “bear a certain penalty”.

Richard Colbeck, Australia’s sports minister, told The Sydney Morning Herald called the comments “very concerning” and said the country’s athletes had a right to voice their opinion.

Human Rights Watch, the advocacy group, has previously appealed to top IOC donors use their financial influence to address the oppression of the Uighurs. But the company’s partners have evasive question about their approach to the Beijing Games.

Many human rights campaigners have urged Olympic athletes to refrain from political statements.

“We are advising athletes not to speak out,” said Rob Koehler, general manager of Global Athlete, an international sports advocacy group. “Competition, go home and speak when you get home. It is such a sad statement that we even have to say so.”

Maximilian Klein, sports policy representative for Athleten Deutschland, Germany’s independent athletes’ association, warned that speaking out could lead to divisions in China. He pointed at recent treatment of tennis star Peng Shuai, a three-time track and field athlete who virtually disappeared from public view after she alleged she was assaulted by a high-ranking Chinese official. sex work.

The IOC was criticized after Thomas Bach, the organization’s president, entered a 30-minute video call with Peng and declared that she was “safe and well”. Bach said he will meet Peng in Beijing before the Olympics begin.

“We have seen in the Peng Shuai case that the IOC is neither willing nor able to protect athletes in the Olympic movement,” Klein said.

But for athletes, the Beijing event alone is a feat.

Shaun White, an American skier and three-time gold medalist, is among the stars who have contracted Covid-19 in recent weeks. He will compete at his fifth Olympics after he qualified this month after recovering.

“I’m just grateful that I started testing negative before this competition, so I was allowed to compete,” he said. “It’s going to be a really uncomfortable position to be in there, you know, it’s the final qualifying round and I can’t ride.”

Additional reporting by Wang Xueqiao in Shanghai

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