Subway stations closed, Tiananmen Square under heavy security as Games begin

Koki Kataoka / The Yomiuri Shimbun
Security officers are on alert near Beijing National Stadium, which is the venue for the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics, on Friday afternoon in Beijing.

BEIJING – On alert for protests and terrorist attacks against the Beijing Winter Olympics, Chinese authorities put heavy security in place in central Beijing on Friday when the Games started.

At three subway stations in the vicinity of Beijing National Stadium — more commonly referred to as the “Bird’s Nest” — which is the venue for the opening ceremony, station entrances and exits were closed at midnight Friday so that people could not use them. At 6 a.m., access to roads leading to the Bird’s Nest was limited to Olympic-related activity in an area of about 5 kilometers from north to south and about 1 kilometer from east to west, as police officers on alert set up barricades.

Heavy security was in place around Tiananmen Square as well, where in the past a migrant worker set himself on fire to protest unpaid wages and men believed to be from the Uighur ethnic minority crashed a car.

When I visited the square Friday morning, a police officer blocked me from going further, saying that reporters needed permission from the relevant authorities to enter the square. The police seemed to be restricting foreign media coverage on the assumption of an emergency in the square, a symbolic place for Beijing.

When it comes to measures against the coronavirus, the “bubble method” of cutting off contact between those related to the Olympics and the public is being applied more strictly than at last summer’s Tokyo Olympics.

Foreign reporters invited to the opening ceremony were required to have received three doses of a coronavirus vaccine and to take PCR tests twice within 48 hours. On Friday, they were stuck in buses and other places for more than eight hours before the opening ceremony.

According to the organizers, 111 athletes and team staffers as well as 197 Olympic officials were confirmed positive for the virus in the period from Jan. 23, when many Olympic athletes and officials started to arrive in Beijing, to Feb 3. A woman in her 70s who lives near the Bird’s Nest said, “I want thorough management of foreigners [in the bubble] to prevent the virus from spreading.”