Less than three months after the hosting of the Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Beijing, the Olympic Council of Asia (COA) announced on Friday that this year’s Asian Games to be held in China have been postponed due to outbreaks. of the omicron variant of the coronavirus in the country.
The COA noted that the new date will be announced “in the near future” after discussions with the organizers and the Chinese Olympic Committee.
The COA statement stated that local organizers were “very well prepared to hold the Games on time despite global challenges. However, all parties involved made the decision after carefully considering the pandemic situation and the magnitude of the Games.”
The Asian Games were to be held between September 10 and 25 in the city of Hangzhou, in the east of the country, and would bring together more than 11,000 athletes, more than the Summer Olympics. The last edition was in 2018 in Jakarta, Indonesia.
The postponement reflects growing concern among Chinese authorities about the rapid spread of outbreaks from Shanghai to Beijing in an important political year. The ruling Communist Party is holding a major meeting this fall and wants no sign of instability, pandemic-related or not.
China maintains a “zero COVID” strategy that includes lockdowns and other restrictions despite the economic costs and the fact that many other countries are relaxing and trying to live with the virus.
Chinese state television also reported the postponement in a brief statement, but did not provide further details.
The Asian Games would take place from September 10 to 25 in the eastern city of Hangzhou and would involve more than 11,000 athletes, more than the typical Olympic Games. The last edition was in 2018 in Jakarta, Indonesia.
The Universiade, another major international multi-sport event, has also been postponed, organizers said on Friday. They were originally planned for 2021 before being pushed back a year due to the pandemic. They were to be held from June 26 to July 7 in the western city of Chengdu, with approximately 6,000 athletes.
The Swiss-based International University Sports Federation (FIDU), which runs the Universiade, said they would take place in 2023, but did not provide a date or details.
“Continuing uncertainty about conditions has made rescheduling a sensible option,” FIDU President Leonz Eder said in a statement.
Both events were expected to use the “closed bubble” system that was applied at the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games held in the capital. Then, participants and reporters were isolated from the population of Beijing and had to undergo daily tests for the virus and frequent temperature checks.
The Winter Olympics were a relatively small event with only 2,900 athletes. The Winter Paralympics numbered around 700.
The country is sticking to its strict “zero COVID” policy even as many others are easing restrictions as they try to live with the virus. The lockdown of much of Shanghai — a financial, shipping and manufacturing hub — has upended people’s lives and dealt a heavy blow to the economy.
China reported a total of 4,628 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, the vast majority of them asymptomatic and reported in Shanghai, the country’s largest city, which is about 177 kilometers (110 miles) east of Hangzhou.