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China says Omicron outbreak isn’t affecting Olympic plans yet

Staff members rehearse a victory ceremony at the Beijing Medals Plaza of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, China on Jan. 3, 2022.Ng Han Guan/Associated Press

China’s Olympic organizers say they are not changing their preparations for the Winter Olympics just over three weeks away as the Omicron variant ripples across parts of the country.

“Unless there are large-scale cases in the competition zones, we don’t plan to adjust the Covid-19 countermeasures yet,” Huang Chun, a top virus-control official on the Chinese committee organizing the event, said at a briefing Tuesday in Beijing.

That could change if the situation warrants it, said Huang, who added that Olympic organizers will stick to a “strict implementation” of their guidelines for keeping athletes and others virus-free.

The more contagious Omicron variant appeared over the weekend in Tianjin, a port city that neighbors Beijing and Hebei province where the games will be held Feb. 4-20. China is also dealing with a new virus epicenter in Henan province, where the 5 million people of Anyang city have been locked down after after two individuals were reported with Omicron. A lockdown on the central city of Xi’an, population 13 million, is nearing its fourth week.

China declared last week that it is ready to host the games, with President Xi Jinping visiting venues including the National Speed Skating Oval. The nation has pledged to put on a “simple, safe and splendid” games, in contrast to the spectacle of the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008.

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That attempt to lower expectations is largely due to China’s inability to eliminate Covid-19 from its borders despite strict quarantine rules for inbound travelers, and a policy of mass tracing, testing and lockdowns to stem flareups.

The Winter games are also facing headwinds from a diplomatic boycott led by the US, over what Washington says are China’s “crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, and other human rights abuses,” allegations that Beijing vehemently denies.

Australia, Canada and the U.K. joined the protest, and Japan has said it won’t send any government representatives, though it avoided the phrase “diplomatic boycott.

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China’s Winter games are being held in a bubble -- what local officials refer to as a “closed loop” -- and officials are eager to see the virus doesn’t breach it. In a sign of how nervous they are, the official Xinhua News Agency reported on Sunday that traffic police in Beijing told residents to avoid contact with official Olympic vehicles.

Olympic organizers haven’t announced detailed rules on how locals can attend events, prompting Internet users in the Asian nation to speculate that China’s zero-tolerance approach to containing the coronavirus will mean there’ll be no sales to the public.

They sidestepped a question about ticket policies at the briefing on Tuesday, saying rules for spectators were still being formulated.