Scaled-back Winter Olympics begin in Beijing amid diplomatic boycotts and Covid restrictions

Credit: PA

The opening ceremony for the Winter Olympics in Beijing is set to take place on Friday, but with Covid security scaled up, the Games have been scaled back.

Despite limited attendance and strict pandemic restrictions, China plans to run its Olympics with military precision, a first glimpse of which was seen as the shortened three-day torch relay began on Wednesday.

Workers prepare the flame for the start of the torch relay for the 2022 Winter Olympics at the Olympic Forest Park in Beijing. Credit: AP

As final preparations and rehearsals take place, hazmat suits and an especially vigorous nasal swab serve as an unlikely welcome to Beijing, with visitors plunged into the ‘closed-loop’ system for the duration of the Games in the Chinese capital.

Strict anti-virus protocols have rendered the city entirely off-limits to all but accredited Games personnel, who endured two weeks of health monitoring and at least two stringently monitored PCR tests even before touching down.

Even the smattering of local fans who have been allowed into venues were specially selected and obliged to undergo an obligatory two-week isolation prior to being admitted.

For Team GB athletes, the competition is already underway, and off to a winning start in the mixed curling campaign as Bruce Mouat and Jennifer Dodds secured an opening victory over Sweden.

Team GB speed skater Kathryn Thomson begins her contest for a medal on Saturday. Hoping to secure a win herself, Ms Thomson told ITV News she’s in a strong frame of mind this year after taking a year out to focus on her mental health.

'My goal for all three events is to go out and enjoy them'

Ahead of the opening ceremony on Friday, the rehearsals indicate China will put on a spectacular show.

The run-up to the Games was marred by diplomatic boycotts, prompted in part by China’s human rights record.

Some of the countries which declared the boycott - meaning that while they will send athletes to compete, no ministers or officials will attend - include the US, UK, Canada, Australia and Kosovo.

Athlete Kathryn Thomson told ITV News she's focusing on the Games and looking forward to competing

The Games have begun, and for everyone involved, there will be very different measures of success.

The 24th Winter Olympics take place from 4 February to 20 February with around 3,000 athletes competing in 109 different events.

The Winter Paralympics run from 4 March to 13 March, with around 600 athletes across 78 events.