The 2022 Beijing Olympics will ban all spectators—except Chinese fans who meet ‘specific requirements’

September 30, 2021, 4:25 AM UTC

Beijing will ban foreign spectators from the Winter Games in February 2022, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced Wednesday, but will allow fans from mainland China to attend if they meet currently unspecified “specific requirements.”

The ban on foreign fans is not entirely unexpected. Earlier this year, Japan banned all spectators—foreign and domestic—from attending the postponed Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics in July, fearing that large crowds could turn the competition in a “super-spreader” event.

At the time, Tokyo was under a state of emergency and battling a rising tide of COVID-19 infections. China, by comparison, has kept COVID-19 fairly under control, reporting only sporadic clusters of infections since quashing its initial outbreak in spring 2020. But Beijing has demonstrated greater resolve about containing COVID-19 than many of its international counterparts.

Despite the country having achieved a vaccination rate of around 70%, China’s borders remain tightly sealed to the outside world. Tourists aren’t allowed to enter, as Beijing will grant visas only for work. Even then, anyone entering China is required to quarantine for as long as three weeks. Foreign diplomats have proved a rare exception to the quarantine mandate.

Many analysts believe China’s hard-line approach to COVID-19 is because the government is determined to host the Winter Olympics without incident. Hosting the Winter Olympics is a major political triumph for Beijing, which views the Games as a chance to showcase China’s advancing prosperity, technical ingenuity, and general competence.

But COVID-19 threatens to upend that opportunity—especially since an outbreak in China now would feed skepticism about the efficacy of Chinese-made vaccines, which are the only vaccines available in the country. Calls from foreign lawmakers and human rights groups to either boycott or protest the Winter Olympics—particularly in opposition to Beijing’s alleged persecution of Uyghurs in China’s Xinjiang province—also threaten Beijing’s efforts to hold up the Games as an example of its good governance.

In addition to banning foreign spectators, Beijing will also require that all participants at the Winter Games be vaccinated or else submit to a 21-day quarantine upon arrival in Beijing.

Games participants—including athletes, trainers, journalists, and volunteers—will also be subject to a strict “closed loop” monitoring system during the Games, wherein attendees are permitted to travel between Games venues only for “training, competitions, and work.”

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