Beijing tightens Covid-19 entry rules ahead of Winter Olympics

Passengers waiting at the Beijing West railway station on Nov 17 as the city introduced new Covid-19 curbs that indicated negative tests for incoming visitors. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BEIJING (AFP, BLOOMBERG) - Strict new Covid-19 restrictions come into force in Beijing on Wednesday (Nov 17) for visitors to the Chinese capital, requiring negative tests and dramatically cutting domestic flights as the city raises the drawbridge against the coronavirus ahead of the Winter Olympics.

With less than 100 days to go to the Games in February, China is bracing itself for a challenge to its zero-Covid strategy when thousands of international athletes descend upon Beijing after months of strict border controls.

All visitors to the capital must now show a negative Covid-19 test result from the past 48 hours, while flights from higher risk areas within China will be cancelled or limited to one a day at reduced capacity.

"Beijing is the capital and has strong regional and international connections... The virus must not be introduced into Beijing and it must not spread in Beijing," city spokesman Xu Hejian said at a press conference on Tuesday.

The new restrictions also include Covid-19 tests every three days for the more than 30,000 people working with cold-chain imports in the city.

China has said that earlier outbreaks among Beijing market workers and dock workers in eastern China's Qingdao were linked to cold-chain products.

Case numbers in China remain far lower than in most countries, with only eight domestic infections on Wednesday.

But authorities are taking no chances as international attention focuses on Beijing in the run-up to the winter games.

No spectators from outside China will be allowed to attend the Olympics, which will be held from Feb 4 to 20 in a "closed-loop" bubble.

And the estimated 2,900 athletes must be fully vaccinated or face 21 days' quarantine upon arrival. They will also be tested daily.

China has already imposed extremely strict border controls since last March, leaving families separated and many unable to return to work from outside the country.

This year, rules have eased slightly, but those entering the country still need to undergo weeks of hotel quarantine, monitoring and testing.

An adviser to China's government said he hopes the country will gradually loosen its strict approach to battling Covid-19 after the Winter Olympics, an event that could facilitate more interaction between global leaders.

Mr Henry Wang Huiyao, an adviser to China's State Council and founder of an influential Chinese think-tank, said closer collaboration between Washington, Beijing and the World Health Organisation could help open up his country, which has largely isolated itself as it follows a zero-Covid approach to suppressing the virus.

Mr Wang called for more coordinated action on controlling the outbreak.

"There's a lack of leadership on the global fighting of the pandemic," Mr Wang, president of the Centre for China and Globalisation, said in an interview from the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Singapore.

"There's a need for having that so we can facilitate travel, the movement of people, and even for Chinese government officials to visit other countries."

Mr Wang said he hopes the country's strict approach to handling Covid-19 will change and that it will gradually reopen.

China is preparing for several major events, including the Olympic Games starting in February, making the easing of restrictions unlikely before then.

"I hope that after the Beijing Olympics, we will see something happening," Mr Wang said.

Speaking the same week that US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met for a virtual summit, Mr Wang added he hoped the US leader would be able to visit the opening ceremony of the games.

"We hope that could be another occasion for the two presidents to meet," he said.

China reported eight Covid-19 infections on Wednesday, all in one province, as the country's new cases dropped to single digits for the first time in its latest Delta outbreak.

All of the locally transmitted cases were found in north-eastern Liaoning province, according to the National Health Commission.

The number of new infections has fallen for three consecutive days, after peaking at more than 100 daily during the broadest outbreak the country has experienced since Covid-19 first emerged two years ago.

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