BEIJING (Reuters) -Chinese President Xi Jinping met with International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach on Tuesday, just over a week before the start of the Winter Games, in a rare in-person encounter with a foreign visitor during the pandemic.
Xi, who has not left China since COVID-19 first emerged, wore a white mask with a red Chinese flag in the corner as he stood next to a masked Bach at a government guesthouse in Beijing, according to images on state television.
Later, the two were shown speaking without masks across tables that were widely separated.
The Games will take place from Feb 4-20 inside a “closed-loop” separating athletes and other participants from outsiders, and tickets will not be sold to the public. China has all but shut its borders to international arrivals to curtail COVID-19.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Xi welcomed Bach to China, and Bach praised Xi for China’s “efficiency, determination and vigour” in preparing for the Games, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
They talked about COVID-19 countermeasures at the Games and Bach told Xi that “China is now a winter sports country, and this is the start of a new era for global winter sports,” according to a readout on the IOC website.
While athletes and other Games personnel must undergo COVID-19 screening before flying to China on special charter flights, organisers have begun reporting cases among early arrivals, including 15 new cases on Jan. 24, one of them an athlete or team official.
Bach arrived in Beijing on Saturday and entered a three-day isolation period.
Besides COVID-19, Games preparations have been clouded by international protests over China’s human rights record, with the United States and many of its allies, including Britain, Canada, Australia, Japan and Denmark, saying they will not send official diplomatic delegations.
China has denied any human rights abuses and rejects what it calls the politicisation of sports.
“The two leaders discussed the strong support of the international community for the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022,” the IOC said in its statement on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Tony Munroe)