June 29, 2022

The upcoming Beijing Olympics’ three-day torch relay has been shortened considerably because of concerns about the coronavirus, started Wednesday with an 80-year-old former speedskater carrying the flame.

The relay began at the Olympic Foreign Park with Luo Zhihuan, the country’s first internationally competitive speedskater to run the first leg.

According to event organisers, the torch will be carried through the three Olympics zones, it will begin with downtown Beijing and head to Yanqing district and lastly Zhangjiakou in neighboring Hebei Province.

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

The participants in the torch relay have undergone health screenings and have been carefully monitored, starting from two weeks before the event.

Among others 135 torchbearers heading out Wednesday were Jing Ye Peijian, a 77-year-old consultant to China’s lunar exploration program, Haipeng, captain of the Chinese Astronaut Corps, Chinese film director Zhang Yimou, and former NBA player Yao Ming, who will direct Friday’s opening ceremony at the Bird’s Nest.

The Winter Games have been beset by political controversies, alongside medical considerations.

The United States, Britain and several allies six weeks ago mentioned that they would not send dignitaries to attend the Beijing Games as a protest against human rights abuses by the Communist Party regime.

According to reports, athletes have been threatened by the organizing committee with “certain punishments” for saying or doing anything that would offend their Chinese hosts, while several delegations urged anyone headed to Beijing to take “burner” phones instead of their personal devices because of concerns their personal information could be compromised.