For a second straight event, the Olympic Games will be absent (or at least nearly absent) of spectators amid rising COVID concerns. Tickets will not be sold to the general public, organizers announced this week, but rather distributed to a small number of invited guests.

The decision was made following the first reported case of the Omicron variant in Beijing on January 15.

“In terms of the grim and complex situation of epidemic prevention and control [and] in order to protect the health and safety of Olympic personnel and spectators, we have decided to change the original plan of public ticket sales,” the International Olympic Committee said.

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The decision comes just weeks before the games are scheduled to open on February 4 with athletes arriving from around the world.

Hopes for spectators had been high at first, after spectators were barred from the Olympic summer games that were held in Japan in 2021 after initially being postponed due to the initial onset of COVID in 2020. But just like last year, rising case numbers first spurred organizers to restrict ticket sales to residents of the host country, and then shut down attendance entirely.

This is despite the IOC indicating that there was a “need and want” to have spectators in Beijing for 2022 during the final lead-up to the 2021 event. Having no paid spectators at the global event in back-to-back iterations is a financial nightmare for organizers.

It is unclear exactly who will be invited to attend, but the entire games are planning a “closed loop” system to minimize the risk of outbreak among participants at the games. Fully vaccinated participants can enter the system upon arrival in China, while unvaccinated participants who receive a waiver need to quarantine for a full 21 days after they arrive. During the games, participants will be monitored daily.

Competition at the Olympics kicks off on February 2 with preliminary curling competitions, with medals awarded as early as February 5 in select events. Competition continues through Sunday, February 20. The paralympic games follow in early March.

The full event schedule is available at the official website here.

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