China on Monday canceled plans to sell tickets for the Beijing Winter Olympics as the number of COVID-19 cases in the country reached its highest level since March 2020.
Last year, organizers said there would be no foreign spectators at the Games — due in part to China’s week-long quarantine requirements — but they promised to allow local audiences in.
But those plans were canceled on Monday as China reported 223 new infections just three weeks before the opening of the Winter Olympics.
“In order to protect the health and safety of personnel and spectators associated with the Olympic Games, it has been decided to adjust the original plan for selling tickets to the public and (instead) organize spectators to watch the Games on site,” the Beijing Olympic Organization said. the committee said in a statement.
It is not yet clear how these spectators will be selected and whether they will have to be quarantined before or after the Games.
China, where the virus first emerged in late 2019, has a strict COVID-19 policy even as the rest of the world reopens.
But its approach has come under constant pressure in recent weeks due to multiple virus clusters in key areas, including the port of Tianjin and the southern manufacturing region of Guangdong.
Athletes and officials have already begun to land in the capital on the eve of the Games, immediately falling into a tightly controlled bubble separating them from the rest of the population.
After a local case of a highly infectious strain of omicron was discovered in Beijing over the weekend, authorities have also tightened rules for arrivals from other parts of China.
The capital is currently requiring a negative test before travel and a follow-up test upon entry, and residents are being urged not to leave the city for the upcoming Lunar New Year.
Some tourist sites have also been closed.
A senior health official told residents to “avoid buying goods overseas” after saying a local case could have been delivered by international mail.
The infected woman in Beijing did not travel or come into contact with other infected people, authorities said as they tested 13,000 people living or working in the same area.
Health spokesman Pan Xinghuo told reporters that the virus was found on the surface of a letter that an infected person had received from Canada.
Dozens of letters from a single batch were tested, and five found traces of COVID-19, Pang said.
She added that the strain was different from the omicron cases in China and similar to the variants identified in North America last month. “We conclude that the possibility of virus infection through incoming objects cannot be ruled out.”
Therefore, residents should “try to avoid buying goods overseas during outbreaks,” Pan said. “If you receive mail from overseas, you should wear masks and disposable gloves to reduce direct contact.”
She advised people to “open packages outdoors”.
China has linked a number of its virus clusters to products imported from abroad.
A theory from Beijing that the virus did not originate in China but was imported via frozen food was deemed “possible” but very unlikely in a report last year by international experts appointed by the World Health Organization.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says on its website that people can become infected through contact with contaminated surfaces or objects, but the risk is low.
Within three days, any traces of the virus remaining on surfaces should be reduced by 99%.
Analysts warn that China’s approach to zero COVID, which includes targeted lockdowns and travel restrictions, will put more pressure on the economy.
On Monday, about 68 cases of COVID-19 were reported in the central province of Henan, where partial lockdowns and mass testing have been introduced for millions of residents.