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2021 FISU Winter Universiade cancelled over new Omicron coronavirus strain — source

The 2021 FISU Winter Universiade has been scheduled to run between December 11 and 21 in Lucerne and the six cantons of Central Switzerland

MOSCOW, November 29. /TASS/. The 2021 Winter Universiade in Switzerland’s Lucerne has been cancelled due to the emergence eruption of the new Omicron coronavirus strain, a source in the International University Sports Federation (FISU) told TASS on Monday.

The 2021 FISU Winter Universiade was scheduled to run between December 11 and 21 in Lucerne and the six cantons of Central Switzerland, including Lucerne, Nidwalden, Obwalden, Schwyz, Uri, and Zug.

The Swiss University Sports Federation has confirmed to TASS that the 2021 Winter Universiade had been canceled. The press service of the FISU has also confirmed this in an official statement.

"Following meetings of the Executive Committee of FISU and the Board of Directors of the Lucerne 2021 Winter Universiade Association, FISU and Lucerne 2021 have announced with deep regret that the Lucerne 2021 Winter Universiade scheduled for 11 - 21 December will no longer take place," the statement reads.

"Restrictions on international arrivals have been announced by Swiss authorities with regard to a number of countries where the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has been identified," according to FISU’s statement.

Commenting on Monday’s decision, FISU Acting President Leonz Eder said: "In the face of travel restrictions being imposed in Switzerland and all around the world, we have had no other choice but to cancel the Lucerne 2021 Winter Universiade."

"This decision was made with a very heavy heart," he continued. "So many of my fellow Swiss university sports colleagues had already given so much, for so long to this event. But the new travel restrictions mean that staging the event has now been made impossible."

"On behalf of FISU, I would like to offer our solidarity and sincere gratitude to the organizing committee of Lucerne 2021 and all the partners who have been working so hard to provide a magical Alpine moment," Eder stated. "FISU is also deeply saddened for the delegations from National University Sports Federations from all around the world who had been looking forward to Lucerne 2021."

Guido Graf, the chair of the 2021 Winter Universiade Organizing Committee in Lucerne, said: "We are devastated and very sorry that we will not be able to welcome athletes from all over the world who have been preparing intensively for their competitions."

Last Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) designated the B.1.1.529 variant discovered in South Africa as a "Variant of Concern" and assigned it the Greek letter Omicron. This variant has a large number of mutations some of which alarm the WHO.

Several changes at once in the spike protein can potentially hinder the neutralization of the pathogen by antibodies which may impact the effectiveness of vaccines. Additionally, according to preliminary reports, the strain has a heightened ability to spread. As a precautionary measure, a number of countries suspended air service with southern African countries.