Japanese Covid-19 curbs may hit skating finale

TOKYO • Figure skating's Grand Prix final was thrown into doubt just nine days ahead of the Osaka event, as Japan closed its borders to all non-resident foreigners on Tuesday over concerns about the new Omicron Covid-19 variant.

The International Skating Union's (ISU) Grand Prix final is seen as a key step on the road to the Winter Olympics next year, with the Beijing Games set for Feb 4-20.

"We will follow the instructions of the sports agency but we haven't heard anything new yet," an official at the Japan Skating Federation told Reuters when asked whether foreign skaters would be allowed to enter the country.

The Japan Sports Agency said it also did not know what the rules would be for foreigners scheduled to compete in the Dec 9-12 event. An official added that it was still in discussions with related ministries and agencies.

Americans Nathan Chen, Vincent Zhou and Jason Brown, and Russia's Mikhail Kolyada are on the roster for the men's singles, along with Japan's Yuma Kagiyama and Shoma Uno.

The women's singles will be contested by Japan's Kaori Sakamoto and five Russians including 15-year-old Kamila Valieva.

The ISU has said it is in "constant contact" with the Japanese Skating Federation and the Japanese authorities regarding the situation.

Japan on Tuesday confirmed its first Omicron case in a man who had arrived from Namibia.

China, meanwhile, has warned that the fast-spreading Omicron variant would cause challenges in hosting the Winter Games.

Although the country has largely quashed the coronavirus within its borders through travel restrictions and snap lockdowns, recurrent domestic outbreaks have been linked to the Delta variant.

The authorities are concerned that similar situations could occur with the Omicron strain.

"I think it will definitely lead to challenges linked to prevention and control," Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said.

"But China has a lot of experience in responding to Covid-19. I firmly believe the Winter Olympics will be conducted smoothly."

The nation is determined to pull off a smooth Games in what would be a propaganda win for Beijing's zero-tolerance Covid strategy.

Olympic officials have barred all foreign spectators from the Games, while thousands of athletes, media personnel and participants arriving from overseas are required to enter a strict "closed-loop" bubble.

Testing, vaccinations and the bubble are "among the vital elements that will enable the Games to take place safely", said an International Olympic Committee spokesman. China's health authorities also said they had the means to cope with the Omicron variant.

"China has already done a good job of technical preparations for the Omicron variant," said Xu Wenbo, head of the virus control institute at China's Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We have many lines of technical research, including preliminary technical research into deactivated vaccines, protein-based vaccines and vector-based vaccines."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 02, 2021, with the headline Japanese Covid-19 curbs may hit skating finale. Subscribe