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China mandates three-day Olympic torch relay amid virus concerns

BEIJING (AP) – China is limiting the torch relay for the Winter Olympics to only three days amid coronavirus worries, organisers said yesterday.

The flame will be displayed only in enclosed venues that are deemed “safe and controllable”, according to officials.

No public transit routes would be disturbed and normal life would continue for the 20 million residents of the capital, where a handful of new COVID-19 cases have been recorded over recent days.

Beijing’s Deputy Sports Director Yang Haibin said safety was the “top priority”, with the pandemic, venue preparations and the possibility of forest fires in Beijing’s cold, dry climate all factored in.

The relay will run from February 2-4, taking in the three competition areas of downtown Beijing, the suburb of Yanqing, and Zhangjiakou in the neighbouring province of Hebei.

The Games have already been impacted on a scale similar to that experienced by Tokyo during last year’s Summer Olympics.

China said only selected spectators will be allowed to attend the events, and Olympic athletes, officials, staff and journalists are required to stay within a bubble that keeps them from contact with the general public.

The opening of the Games comes just days after the start of the Lunar New Year holiday, China’s biggest annual celebration when millions traditionally travel to their hometowns for family reunions. For the second year, the government has advised those living away from home to stay put, and train and plane travel has been curtailed.

Participants in the torch rally will undergo health screens and be carefully monitored, starting from two weeks before the event begins, said Deputy Head of the Organising Committee Xu Zhijun.

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