With just over two weeks to go before the Beijing Winter Olympics open, residents of the Chinese capital say they are disappointed they will not be able to attend the events due to coronavirus restrictions which have seen parts of the city under control. Organizers announced on Monday that no tickets will be sold to the general public and only selected spectators will be allowed. Access to the famous National Stadium, known as the Bird’s Nest, and indoor venues in the heart of Beijing has been cordoned off. Those interviewed on Wednesday seemed to understand the restrictions. Many of them could be seen skating on frozen lakes in Beijing as a sign of continued enthusiasm for winter sports. Since China does not allow any public demonstrations or opinion polls and strictly restricts free speech, any opposition to the Games or the restrictions would be stifled. Chen Lin had planned to buy tickets for the speed skating, but waived his personal concerns about the pandemic and after it became clear that tickets would only be offered to selected spectators. “I went to the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008. It’s a shame that I can’t watch the Games this time during the Winter Olympics,” the 38-year-old said. “Of course, we can still watch the Games with live broadcast on TV and live online, but that doesn’t provide as much of a sense of engagement as watching the Games on location.” Beijing is the first city to be granted the right to host the Summer and Winter Games. Chen said the level of excitement this year was much lower than in 2008, when the Games sparked a wave of national pride. “For one thing, the Winter Olympics don’t get as much attention as the Summer Olympics. On the other hand, there is also the pandemic. Both are the reasons,” he said. Retired and amateur photographer Wang Syaolan, who volunteered at the 2008 Games, said she hoped to take her camera to events to ‘be a part of it’ ‘But now with management in closed loop, we won’t be able to be there ourselves. It’s a shame,’ Wang said, referring to restrictions separating participants from the general population. The recent appearance of the more contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus in Beijing has heightened concerns about outbreaks, although the capital reported just one new case on Wednesday. Elsewhere in the country, around 20 million people are in some form of lockdown and mass testing has been ordered in entire cities where cases have been found. China has largely avoided major outbreaks with lockdowns, mass testing and travel restrictions, though it continues to battle surges in several cities, including the port of Tianjin, about an hour from Beijing. Restrictions have also been tightened in the city of Anyang in Henan province, south of Beijing, where 29 additional cases of local transmission were reported on Wednesday, out of a national total of 55. Games organizers have previously announced that no fans from outside the country will be allowed. .
The Olympics begin on February 4, just days after the start of Lunar New Year celebrations. Athletes, officials, staff and journalists are required to enter a pandemic bubble without outside contact and undergo daily testing.
As an additional precaution, Beijing will require travelers to take nucleic acid tests within 72 hours of entering the city from Jan. 22. Schools in Beijing also closed early and moved classes online ahead of the winter vacation.
Along with coronavirus concerns, the Games have been plagued by political controversies, including a decision by the United States and its close allies not to send dignitaries to protest China’s treatment of its Uyghur Muslim minority. and other human rights violations. On Tuesday, the athletes were urged by human rights campaigners to avoid criticizing China because they could be prosecuted. The International Olympic Committee said athletes will have freedom of expression when speaking to reporters or posting on social media. However, the Olympic Charter rule that prohibits political protest at medal ceremonies also requires that “applicable public law” be observed.
The IOC has not responded to requests in recent days to clarify how Chinese law might apply to the Games.
Asked about free speech issues at the Olympics, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Wednesday that China understands the IOC is banning athletes from political protests.
“I would like to reiterate that China invites athletes from all countries to participate in the Beijing Winter Olympics and will ensure their safety and convenience,” Zhao told reporters during a daily briefing.
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