The Asian Games have been postponed indefinitely as host China battles a resurgence of COVID-19 cases.
The Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) said on Friday the games, scheduled for September, were being delayed because of concerns over the spreading Omicron variant. China is racing to contain its largest outbreak since the early days of the pandemic.
“The Olympic Council of Asia has announced that the 19th Asian Games, originally scheduled to be held in Hangzhou, China from September 10 to 25, 2022, will be postponed,” said a statement on the official website.
The new dates for the sporting contest “will be announced at a later date”, it added.
The host city of Hangzhou lies less than 200km (120 miles) from the country’s biggest city, Shanghai, which has endured a weeks-long lockdown as part of the ruling Communist Party’s zero-tolerance approach to the virus.
The OCA statement said local organisers were “very well prepared to deliver the games on time despite the global challenges. However, the decision was taken by all the stakeholders after carefully considering the pandemic situation and the size of the games.”
Organisers said last month that Hangzhou, a city of 12 million in eastern China, had finished constructing 56 competition venues for the Asian Games and Asian Para Games.
At the time, they indicated they planned to hold the events under a virus control plan that “learns from the successful experience” of the Beijing Winter Olympics, which were held in February in a strict COVID-secure bubble.
Hangzhou was poised to become the third city in China to host the continental competition after Beijing in 1990 and Guangzhou in 2010.
Some events were to be held in other provincial cities, including Ningbo, Wenzhou, Huzhou, Shaoxing and Jinhua.
Almost all international sport has ground to a halt in China since COVID emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.
The Beijing Olympics was an exception but it was held in a strict “closed loop” with everyone inside it, including athletes, staff, volunteers and media, taking daily COVID tests and not allowed to venture into the wider public.
China has stubbornly stuck to a zero-COVID policy, imposing strict lockdowns, quarantines and mass testing programmes even while other countries start to reopen as the threat of the pandemic recedes.
The government has touted the strategy as proof that it values human life above material concerns and can avert the public health crises seen in many Western countries.
Top leaders on Thursday again promised to “unwaveringly adhere” to zero-COVID and “resolutely fight against” criticism of the policy despite a growing public outcry against the measures.
Anger is especially pointed in Shanghai, where 25 million people have seethed under a patchwork of lockdowns since March amid complaints of overzealous lockdown measures and spartan quarantine conditions.