Modest Beijing Olympic torch relay begins 2 days ahead of opening

Beijing Olympic

The Beijing Olympic torch relay kicked off in a modest manner in the center of the capital on Wednesday amid lingering concern over the COVID-19 pandemic, just two days before the opening of the global sporting event.

Around 1,200 people are set to join the three-day torch relay that started at Beijing's Olympic Forest Park. The event has been scaled back to ensure the health and safety of the public against the backdrop of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Beijing Olympic torchbearers are scheduled to visit a total of 12 locations closed off to the public, including some of China's World Heritage sites such as the Great Wall and the Summer Palace royal garden.

On the first day of the relay, China's renowned film director Zhang Yimou, who is chief director of Friday's opening ceremony, astronaut Jing Haipeng, aerospace engineer Ye Peijian and other celebrities served as runners.

Nearly 400 people including Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng, Olympic officials, runners and volunteers took part in a ceremony commemorating the beginning of the torch relay, which was not broadcast on television.

The relay will also feature robots that will exchange the Olympic flame underwater and autonomous vehicles, as China is making efforts to demonstrate its state-of-the-art technology to the world.

The Olympic flame for the Beijing Olympics arrived in the capital in October 2021 from Athens, Greece. On Friday, Beijing will become the first city to hold both the summer and winter games.

In October, people protesting against the Beijing Olympics over human rights issues in China disrupted a ceremony at ancient Olympia in western Greece, while the United States and some democratic countries have announced they will stage a diplomatic boycott.

The diplomatic boycott, which would not affect the participation of athletes, is seen as a response to China's alleged human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims in its far-western Xinjiang region that the United States has labeled a "genocide."

In 2008, the torch relay of the Beijing Summer Olympics was conducted across China.