Next month's Beijing Olympics risk becoming a super-spreader event but authorities are deploying 'zero Covid' measures to prevent and contain any outbreaks among the participants. Image: Getty / AFP

HONG KONG – China’s capital Beijing will not be locked down before the Winter Olympics despite recent Omicron variant outbreaks in nearby Tianjin city and Henan province, the Organizing Committee for the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games has said.

The committee added that the Beijing Olympics’ schedule would be changed only if large-scale virus outbreaks occurred among athletes and participants, who will be managed under a tight “closed-loop system” to avoid any potential viral spread in the local population.

Beijing implemented the closed-loop system for the athletes, journalists, show performers and other staff of the games on January 4. More than 1,700 media workers, who will not have contact with outsiders, have since entered the loop. About 3,000 show performers, 27,000 volunteers and foreign participants will be contained in the system.

An estimated 2,900 athletes from over 90 countries will participate in the Beijing Winter Olympics between February 4 and 20 and the follow-up Paralympic Winter Games between March 4 and 13.

Huang Chun, deputy director-general of the Pandemic Prevention and Control Office of the Beijing 2022 Organizing Committee, said on Tuesday it was not necessary to lock down Beijing during the event, even as the Omicron variant spreads in Tianjin and Henan.

Huang said China’s closed-loop management of the games’ areas has been running smoothly so far and that there would be no need to reschedule the games unless large-scale viral outbreaks happened within the loop.

Zhao Weidong, a spokesperson for the Beijing 2022 Organizing Committee, said the opening and closing ceremonies would be scaled back to mitigate the risk of virus transmission.

People visit the Beijing Olympic tower on February 3, 2021, a year before the scheduled opening of the 2022 Winter Olympics on February 4, 2022. Photo: AFP / Wang Zhao

At the 2021 Summer Olympics held in Tokyo, foreigners were required to quarantine for 14 days in Japan upon arrival. However, they did not need to stay in a closed-loop system after being in quarantine.

There were no major outbreaks associated with Tokyo’s Olympics, though notably they were held before the advent of the highly contagious Omicron. The risk of foreigners bringing the virus to China is significant due to the explosive number of cases in the West.

In the United States, the seven-day average number of Covid cases rose to 760,936 per day in the week ended on Tuesday. On Monday, 1.43 million people tested positive for Covid-19 in the US in a single day.

Between January 5 and 11, the seven-day average number of cases was 155,868 per day in the United Kingdom, 278,817 in France, 52,846 in Germany and 39,456 in Canada. In England, about 130 people are dying from the coronavirus per day, compared with 1,300 a year ago when vaccines were not globally available.

The viral situation in China, which has maintained a strict “zero Covid” containment policy, is comparatively tame. On Tuesday, China recorded just 166 new local infections – 118 in Henan, 33 in Tianjin, eight in Xi’an and seven in Shenzhen. Cases in Tianjin were mainly attributed to the Omicron variant, while Henan was hit by both Delta and Omicron cases.

On Monday evening, Anyang city in Henan was locked down as two Omicron cases were reported. Residents were not allowed to go out and stores were ordered shut, except for those selling necessities. The Anyang city government said the first cases were believed to be linked to the same transmission chain as the local cases in Tianjin.

On Monday, local officials confirmed two people had caught the highly-transmissible Covid strain from a student who returned to Anyang on December 28.

Mass testing in Tianjin before the lockdown. Photo: Xinhua

On Wednesday, Tianjin’s local government announced that employees of its departments and state-owned enterprises would be granted leave in the afternoon so they could take Covid-19 tests. People rushed to supermarkets for food and necessities, while some left the city as they were worried about a potential lockdown.

Zhang Boli, president of Tianjin University of Traditional Chinese Medicine and an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said on Wednesday that he remained optimistic that the epidemic situation in Tianjin would stabilize before the upcoming Chinese New Year holiday.

Zhang said some Western countries had irresponsibly relaxed their anti-epidemic rules and adopted a “herd immunity” strategy. He said China had made the right choice by adopting a “dynamic zero infection” strategy over the past two years.

Zhang Ying, an official at the Tianjin Center For Disease Control and Prevention, said Tianjin and Beijing had set up a hotline to exchange anti-epidemic information.

Zhang said Tianjin had already taken strict measures to prevent its Covid-19 patients from traveling to Beijing as virus outbreaks in the capital city would disrupt the Winter Olympics.

Read: Omicron creeps towards Beijing ahead of Olympic Games

Follow Jeff Pao on Twitter at @jeffpao3