China had already barred foreign spectators from attending the Winter Games that begin in Beijing in less than a month. On Monday, it announced that most Chinese people won’t be able to attend either.
Citing the evolving threat from the coronavirus pandemic, the Beijing Organising Committee announced that it was ending ticket sales to the events “to ensure the safety of all participants and spectators.”
The decision came less than two days after health authorities reported Beijing’s first case of the omicron variant and ordered an immediate lockdown and mass testing in one of the capital’s neighborhoods.
The outbreak, though so far limited, pierced the extraordinary efforts to isolate Beijing, including a ban on travel into the city, in part to assure that the Olympics would be affected as little as possible.
The organizing committee said they had created an “adapted program” to allow some spectators, suggesting that groups that had been sufficiently screened and quarantined would be invited to attend.
Those could involve government workers, sponsors or government officials, but the committee did not elaborate except to make clear that the public would not be able to buy tickets, which had not yet gone on sale.
The International Olympic Committee later released a statement that largely echoed Beijing’s.
“The organizers expect that these spectators will strictly abide by the COVID-19 countermeasures before, during and after each event so as to help create an absolutely safe environment for the athletes,” the IOC’s statement said.
The Winter Games, which begin Feb. 4, will now unfold like those in Tokyo, which also barred most spectators before last year’s Summer Games. Authorities in China, who had pressed ahead defiantly to fill the venues with spectators, have now had to bow to the grim realities of the pandemic.
Even before Monday’s end of ticket sales, organizers had already drafted health protocols that far exceeded those in Tokyo. They have created a “closed loop” system that will isolate athletes, spectators, journalists and Olympic workers within the three clusters of venues where the events will take place.
Until Monday, the organizers had hoped to be able to allow vaccinated and tested spectators to buy tickets to enter the three “bubbles,” which include the main Olympic Village in Beijing — the site of the Summer Games in 2008 — and two mountain clusters north of the capital, Zhangjiakou and Yanqing.
Anyone from China who had entered would have still been expected to quarantine for 21 days after leaving, an effort to protect the broader population from exposure from foreign visitors.
Even with such extraordinary measures, the organizers no longer felt they could risk the interaction between the population outside the event and the international crowd that is beginning to arrive.
China has in recent weeks aggressively sought to stamp out a series of concurrent outbreaks as part of the government’s policy of “zero tolerance” for the coronavirus. By last week, more than 20 million people were confined in their homes in cities around China, including Tianjin, a port city just 70 miles east of Beijing.
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