BEIJING : China’s President Xi Jinping had a rare pandemic-era encounter with a foreign visitor Tuesday when he met with Olympic chief Thomas Bach as the country readies to host the Winter Olympics. “Chinese President Xi Jinping met with President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Thomas Bach in Beijing on Tuesday,” read a statement from Xinhua news agency, which gave no further details. Bach arrived in the city on Saturday and went into a “three-day isolation” ahead of the Beijing 2022 opening ceremony on February 4, Xinhua said in an earlier report.
China, where the coronavirus first emerged, has maintained a strict zero-Covid policy that includes mass testing and snap lockdowns in response to the slightest hint of an outbreak. This has kept infections low but left the country cut off internationally. Most visitors from abroad are forced to quarantine for multiple weeks but different rules are in place for the Olympics.
Participants will fly straight into a “closed loop” bubble in Beijing and are forbidden from interacting with the public. Xi has not left China since the start of the pandemic, and last met a visiting head of state in March 2020 ––– when he received Pakistan President Arif Alvi in Beijing. Xi is expected to meet various world leaders and dignitaries during the Olympics. China hopes to make next week’s Games a soft power triumph, although the lead-up has been clouded by a diplomatic boycott from several western countries over the country’s human rights record. Bach has been a staunch supporter of Beijing’s Games and has insisted that the IOC remains politically neutral.