Omicron, New Year, Olympics: a test for China’s zero-Covid strategy

By Alvaro Alfaro

Beijing, Jan 18 (EFE).- Millions of people were on the move across China on Tuesday for Lunar New Year celebrations as the country’s busiest travel period kicked off amid ongoing Covid-19 outbreaks.

The festivities peak on January 31, just 5 days before the Winter Olympic Games are due to open in the Chinese capital.

The annual holiday, which sees millions of rural migrants returning home from the country’s large cities and industrial centers, gives rise to the largest human migration on the planet.

But amid rising coronavirus case numbers, authorities in several cities, including Beijing, are trying to encourage residents not to travel for the holidays by offering rewards of up to 500,000 yuan ($78,730, 69,000 euros) for companies that manage to keep their employees in the city.

Some 280 million train journeys and approximately 600,000 flights are expected during the holiday period.

Officials hope that travel will not lead to a widespread outbreak of the Omicron variant, which has led to restrictions in cities that have already recorded cases, such as Tianjin and Anyang.

Beijing, site of the Winter Olympics in just over two weeks, has imposed tests before and after entering the city as part of the authorities’ “zero-tolerance” approach to Covid-19.

The strict strategy involves mobility restrictions, quarantines and massive PCR campaigns wherever cases are detected.

In addition, many primary and secondary schools in the capital will bring forward their vacations for the New Year or transition to remote learning starting Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a lockdown in the central city of Xi’an has been lifted after 30 days following seven consecutive days without a new case.

All athletes and staff working at the Winter Olympics who come from outside China will have to remain in a “bubble” for the entirety of their stay in the Chinese capital.

They will have no contact with the local population and the Beijing authorities have even established guidelines on how to interact in order to minimize contact in case of a road accident with one of the special vehicles that will transport the bubble’s inhabitants between the accommodation and sports venues.

On Monday, the Beijing 2022 Organizing Committee confirmed that no tickets would be sold to fans coming from abroad and that only “designated spectators” will be able to attend the events live.

In a statement, the committee justified its decision in “protecting the health and safety of the staff and public” of the Olympic event.

The Chinese capital will be the first ever city to host a Winter and Summer Olympic Games, and Beijing 2022 will be the third consecutive Olympic event to be held in Asia after Pyeongchang in South Korea in 2018 and Tokyo 2020. EFE


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