China warned on Tuesday that the rapidly spreading variant of Omicron COVID-19 would cause challenges in hosting the Winter Olympics next February in Beijing.
Although China has largely eradicated the coronavirus within its borders through travel restrictions and sudden closures, frequent local outbreaks linked to the delta type have put authorities on high alert.
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“I think it will certainly lead to challenges related to prevention and control,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, adding that Beijing “appreciates South Africa’s efforts in providing timely information” on the alternative.
“But China has a lot of experience in responding to COVID-19,” Zhao added. “I firmly believe that the Winter Olympics will run smoothly.”
China is bent on having a smooth Olympic Games untainted by the COVID-19 virus, in what would be a crucial propaganda win for Beijing’s zero-tolerance strategy for the coronavirus.
Thousands of athletes, media and participants from abroad are being asked to enter a strict “closed-loop” bubble.
Organizers acknowledged last month that the virus would be the “biggest challenge” in hosting the Games.
But health authorities said they had the means to deal with the new alternative.
“China has really done a good job in technical preparations” for the omicron variant, said Xu Wenbo, head of the Institute for Virus Control at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
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“We have many lines of technical research, including preliminary technical research into inactivated vaccines, protein-based vaccines, and vector-based vaccines,” he said in a separate briefing on Tuesday.
More than 1.1 billion people have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus as of Monday, according to health authorities.
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