Beijing Games organisers say virus 'biggest challenge', 100 days from start

Beijing (AFP) – Protecting the Beijing Winter Olympics from the coronavirus is the "biggest challenge", organisers said Wednesday, as millions of people in China were under stay-at-home orders to contain small outbreaks 100 days before the Games.


The Chinese capital will in February become the first host of a Summer and Winter Games, and last week welcomed the Olympic flame with a low-key ceremony.

Case numbers remain relatively low in China, and only three were reported in Beijing on Tuesday.

But authorities have maintained a strict zero-Covid approach through rigorous measures that have seen millions told to stay at home, mass testing across at least 11 provinces and many flights and trains brought to a standstill.

"The pandemic is the biggest challenge to the organisation of the Winter Olympics," Zhang Jiandong, executive vice president of the Beijing Organising Committee, told a press conference.

China's strict rules "can reduce the risks and impact of Covid-19", he said, adding that those in the Games' strict bubble who do not comply with anti-epidemic measures will face consequences including disqualification.

Zhang told reporters that "all preparations are complete" and venues finished.

The country reported 50 new domestic cases Wednesday across six regions.

Lanzhou, a city 720 miles (1,160 km) to the southwest of the capital, went into lockdown Tuesday with authorities ordering its four million residents to stay home except in emergencies.

Coming just six months after the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Summer Games, the Winter Olympics will be held in a strict "closed loop" bubble.

The estimated 2,900 athletes must be fully vaccinated or face 21 days' quarantine upon arrival.

Some of 2008's Summer Games venues will be used during the winter spectacle, including the "Bird's Nest" national stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies.

But only people living in China will be allowed to buy tickets to attend the Games, which run from February 4 to 20.

Officials in Hebei, which neighbours Beijing, said Wednesday that the province was building mobile labs to handle up to 40,000 samples for daily Covid-19 tests during the Games.

In the face of fresh cases on Wednesday, a lockdown was imposed on one housing compound in eastern Shandong province, which logged four new cases.

In a locked-down county of 35,000 people in China's Inner Mongolia region, authorities were working to provide medicines for stranded elderly tourists with chronic conditions, state media outlet Beijing News reported.

And the northwestern Ningxia region -- which has recorded 14 new cases since Saturday -- closed nearly 800 schools.

Authorities in the regional capital Yinchuan said they would test 3.5 million people for the second time, despite the initial round of samples all coming back negative.

In addition to the pandemic, boycott calls are casting a shadow over the Games.

Human rights activists last week disrupted the flame-lighting ceremony in Greece, and campaigners have also accused Beijing of repression in the northwestern Xinjiang region as well as Hong Kong and Tibet.