By Muyu Xu and Karolos Grohmann
BEIJING (Reuters) -China will invite more spectators to attend the Winter Olympics as the COVID-19 situation is under control within the “closed-loop” bubble, which separates all event personnel from the public, an official from the Beijing organisers said on Tuesday.
China did not sell tickets to the public amid concerns over the spread of the pandemic but selected a number of spectators from targeted groups of people who are required to undertake strict COVID prevention measures.
The Tokyo Summer Games took place without spectators due to a surge in coronavirus cases.
Before the Winter Olympics organisers hoped for capacities of at least 30% at venues with some events, such as the opening ceremony and some outdoor sports, having larger numbers.
“In the next step, we will bring in more spectators based on demand, because the current COVID-19 situation within the ‘closed loop’ is under control,” Huang Chun, a director from the Beijing organisers’ pandemic prevention and control office, said at a press briefing on Tuesday.
The spectators will be separated from athletes and other people in the closed-loop by going in and out through specific gates and sitting in the designated area at Games venues.
They must also have taken multiple COVID tests and weeks-long health checks before and after the events.
No quarantine is required after watching the events, but the spectators are not advised to go to crowded places, said Yan Jiarong, a spokeswoman for the Beijing organisers.
China had already said in September that there would be no international spectators at the Games.
“Our stadium has capacity to accept more spectators … If we add a small amount of people, it will not affect current COVID-19 measures,” Qi Liang, secretary general of the National Indoor Stadium, said at a separate presser on Tuesday.
The stadium, which is hosting ice hockey events, has a capacity of 18,000 spectators, but has been allowing only about 1,000 spectators at each event.
The Beijing Olympics Organising Committee reported zero COVID cases among new airport arrivals and six new positive cases from people already in the closed-loop on Monday, the lowest daily tally in two weeks.
But Huang expected a certain number of COVID cases would remain in the closed-loop as travellers in the incubation period may not be detected as positive upon arrival at the airport.
The organisers are hoping to screen out and control the spread of COVID through strict closed-loop management and nucleic acid testing, said Huang, adding that the bubble is “very safe” now.
“I think your chance of picking up a COVID case in the closed-loop is less than anywhere else,” Brian McCloskey, chair of the Beijing 2022 Medical Expert Panel, told the news conference.
(Reporting by Albee Zhang and Ryan Woo; Editing by Christian Schmollinger, Ken Ferris and Himani Sarkar)