Now China, where the virus started spreading more than two years ago, is racing to keep new outbreaks under control, reports Asia Correspondent Debi Edward
When China won its bid to host the 2022 Winter Games, the world was a very different place. The country had successfully hosted the 2008 Summer Games and had continued its fast-paced development in commanding an increasingly important role in the world. Apparently one of the seductive aspects of Beijing's bid for the Winter Olympics was the promise to create a nation of winter sports enthusiasts - 300 million was the exact figure given. The government now claims to have surpassed that, declaring that Winter Olympics fervour has swept across the country. But with the Games just a week away the backdrop against which they will take place is far from what President Xi had hoped.
Firstly, there is the prevailing pandemic. This week marks two years since the world’s first Covid lockdown was enforced in Wuhan. The Olympics will be held under the strict conditions that the Chinese authorities have maintained since that initial outbreak. Testing will be conducted daily, and movements will be strictly controlled in a closed-loop system. Furthermore, only China-based spectators who have been approved and tested by local authorities will be able to attend. The organising committee insists despite these conditions the Games will be safe, secure and a huge success, showcasing China's abilities as host and competitor. They are drawing on the positivity generated around the delayed Tokyo Olympics last summer, which managed to pass off smoothly and capture the world’s attention and imagination.
A diplomatic boycott, warnings to athletes about taboo topics of discussion and Covid measures that will be stricter than any of the competing nations have experienced are adding up make Beijing 2022 a potentially more challenging event.
While we do expect the performances of the athletes - and hopefully medal wins for Team GB - to provide us with the excitement and feel-good moments that come from watching elite sports professionals push themselves to their limits, we also expect there will be moments of protest. There is the potential for athletes to arrive and never compete, although just yesterday the Organising Committee lowered the threshold used in PCR tests which should make it slightly harder for a person to test positive. Anyone who tests positive upon arrival has to enter isolation for 10 days and test negative for three consecutive days before they are released. Here in the city the latest cases have created a lot of nervousness. Friends have received a knock at their door late at night to go and get tested, then had to queue for hours to do so. Other people have had teams in hazmat suits arrive to say their community, or even their workplace, is going into lockdown. More than a few of us in the office have upped our stocks of toilet paper and canned foods - a paranoia borne from what we’ve seen in other cities in recent weeks. Thankfully, for now, the case numbers in the capital look small. It is into this charged environment that the first Team GB athletes will be arriving later this week, although they will be kept far from the city, in an Olympic bubble in the mountains.
It takes dedication and focus to become an Olympian and those arriving here in the next few days would be advised to use those skills to avoid the many distractions they are likely to face.