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Analysis: 100 days before the Winter Olympics, Beijing rushes to control Covid’s growing outbreak

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In February, the Chinese capital will become the first city to host the Summer and Winter Olympics, which is seen as a great source of pride for China. But it also faces great challenges.

In addition to growing calls for a boycott of China’s crackdown on Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong, the Winter Games also run the risk of being overshadowed by China’s pandemic and zero-Covid’s uncompromising policy.

This time, it seems to be a much quieter affair, with much of the city sinking amid a new wave of coronavirus infections.

Since October 17, China has recorded more than 200 local infections in a dozen provinces and municipalities, and health officials have warned that the outbreak is likely to worsen in the coming days.

According to international standards, the current outbreak would be considered relatively small, but in China, even one case poses a challenge to the country’s zero-Covid approach, which requires total removal of the virus. As a result, China’s borders remain well sealed, with strict and long quarantine measures for all international arrivals.

The Winter Games will be the biggest test to date of China’s Covid control measures, with thousands of international athletes and other participants arriving in Beijing.

Chinese organizers have devised a solution to hold the Games in a bubble around Beijing, which will cover all stadiums and competition venues, as well as accommodation, catering and opening and closing ceremonies.

Athletes and other participants who are fully vaccinated will be able to enter the bubble without quarantine. Those who are not fully vaccinated, meanwhile, will have to spend 21 days in quarantine upon arrival. And during the Games, they will have to stay inside the bubble, thus avoiding any contact with local residents.

The Chinese capital has always been one of the top priorities of the country’s zero Covid policy. Most international flights arriving in China do not land in Beijing, but in cities such as Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Shanghai.

And now, amid the expansion of the outbreak, Beijing has also tightened entry restrictions for domestic travelers.

Last week, flights to the capital from Chinese cities with known infections were canceled. And as of this week, officials banned entry to people who had visited places with infections for the past 14 days, even if they are Beijing residents who want to return home. Other domestic travelers must submit a negative coronavirus test and undergo 14 days of health check-up.

The city also suspended its annuity marathon, initially scheduled for Oct. 31, while the arrival of the Olympic flame last week was marked by a discreet ceremony attended by a small audience.

Tuesday, some neighbors pose for photos in front of a countdown board for the Winter Olympics on the city’s main shopping street; Beijing organizers marked the 100-day countdown discovery of the medals for the Games.

Elsewhere in China, Covid’s response has been even more aggressive.

In the northwestern province of Gansu, authorities closed Lanzhou, the provincial capital with a population of 4 million, after six cases were reported on Tuesday. (The city reported a total of 39 cases over the past week.) Residents were told not to leave the home except to seek essential supplies or medical treatment, tourists were prohibited from leaving the city while services bus and taxi had already been suspended.

In Ejin Banner, a city of 35,000 people in Inner Mongolia and a popular tourist destination, all residents and tourists were ordered to stay in their homes or hotel rooms from Monday. The city also fired its Communist Party leader and punished six more officials, including the director of the local health commission, for failing to curb the latest outbreak (the city has reported a total of 89 cases).

The rapid spread of the virus occurs despite the fact that about 75% of China’s population, or more than a billion people, are fully vaccinated. To improve public immunity, Chinese authorities have launched booster injections and launched a national campaign to vaccinate children between 3 and 11 years old.

The effectiveness of Chinese vaccines, especially in the face of the highly infectious Delta variant, has long been a matter of concern. But Yanzhong Huang, a senior global health member of the Foreign Relations Council, said even the best vaccines cannot meet the zero-covid goal set by the Chinese government.

In many countries, innovative cases have been reported among people fully immunized with more effective vaccines, such as those produced by Pfizer / BioNTech and Moderna.

As a growing list of countries shifts to a new approach to living with the virus, China has doubled down on its zero-tolerance model, with voices calling for a change of approach criticized, silenced or even punished.

“It’s a dilemma. If they open up now, you’ll see a rapid increase in Covid cases. People are used to zero infections, so they might question the wisdom of a policy change,” Huang said.

While the zero-Covid strategy remains very popular with the Chinese public, there are growing indications that some residents are fed up with the blockades.

Last week, Beijing police arrested two residents for trying to climb over the fences of their gated community – a rare breach of Covid’s restrictions among the heavily compliant Chinese public.

On Tuesday, said Beijing police Another resident of the same gated community had been arrested for allegedly hitting a community worker while trying to leave the premises through a garage.
In Ruili, a city on China’s border with Myanmar, there are residents taken to social media to complain about the strict and prolonged confinements that have derailed their lives. The city is heavily dependent on trade and border tourism and has faced recurring outbreaks since March, leaving many families without income, according to the publications – some of which have been censored.

Huang said that after the Beijing Winter Games, there will be a “window of opportunity” for China to change its pandemic policy.

But the ruling Communist Party is also due to hold its 20th national congress later this year, when the country’s leader, Xi Jinping, is expected to seek a third term in power, with the aim of ensuring stability. social and political at any cost. said Huang.

“To ensure a smooth transition from leadership, this policy could be maintained until the end of next year,” he added.

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