China Limits Olympic Torch Relay to 3 Days

COVID concerns will restrict relay to 'safe and controllable' locations, organizers say
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 21, 2022 5:03 AM CST
Beijing Torch Relay Will Last Just 3 Days
Participants gather near a logo for the 2022 Winter Olympic torch relay during an event to display the Olympic torch and flame at the Beijing University of Posts and Communications in Beijing, Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021.   (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

(Newser) – China is limiting the torch relay for the Winter Olympics to only three days amid coronavirus worries, organizers said Friday. The flame will be displayed only in enclosed venues that are deemed "safe and controllable," according to officials. No public transit routes will be disturbed and normal life will continue for the 20 million residents of the capital, where a handful of new COVID-19 cases have been recorded over recent days, officials said. Beijing’s deputy sports director, Yang Haibin, said safety was the "top priority," with the pandemic, venue preparations, and the possibility of forest fires in Beijing's cold, dry climate all factored in, the AP reports.

The relay will run from Feb. 2-4, taking in the three competition areas of downtown Beijing, the suburb of Yanqing, and Zhangjiakou in the neighboring province of Hebei. The Games have already been impacted on a scale similar to that experienced by Tokyo during last year's Summer Olympics. China says only selected spectators will be allowed to attend the events, and Olympic athletes, officials, staff, and journalists are required to stay within a bubble that keeps them from contact with the general public. Participants in the torch rally will undergo health screens and be carefully monitored, starting from two weeks before the event begins, said Xu Zhijun, deputy head of the organizing committee.

Beijing reported its first local omicron infection on Jan. 15, and 11 cases had been confirmed in the capital as of Thursday afternoon, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. Outside of Beijing, several million people remain under lockdown. The scaled-down torch relay is a far cry from 2008, when Beijing sent the Olympic icon on a global journey ahead of its hosting of that year's Summer Games. The relay drew protesters against China's human rights violations and policies in Tibet, Xinjiang, and elsewhere, leading to violent confrontations and the cancellation of some overseas stages. (Athletes have been threatened by the organizing committee with "certain punishments" for saying or doing anything that would offend their Chinese hosts.)

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