As more than 13,000 international athletes and journalists descend on Beijing, China, for the Winter Olympic Games, the question remains…can COVID-19 be controlled? For the past two years, China has implemented a “zero-Covid” prevention policy, one of the most rigorous in the world, but the global omicron surge will test the stringent protocols designed to keep athletes healthy.
Travel in and out of China has been severely restricted for foreigners, and there have been restrictions on internal movement since the pandemic began. In fact, as the date of the Opening Ceremony approaches, China has put cities where cases have been detected into lockdown. Here’s a look at the protocols designed to keep athletes safe:
Participants will live and compete in a “closed loop”. The loop includes every winter sports competition and training site in Beijing, Yanqing, and Zhangjiakou and designated hotels where participants and other attendees will stay. Upon arrival, attendees enter the loop which will be cut off from public access and guarded. The sites contain amenities like coffee shops, salons, and even automated cooking machines that minimize human contact.
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Participants must download and log into a health monitoring app 14 days before entering China. The app requires vaccination records, personal health information, and mandates completion of a daily checklist that tracks body temperature and other COVID-19 symptoms. The app displays the results of daily COVID tests and also features a messaging function and provides information like shuttle and event schedules.
Private shuttles and taxi fleets will allow participants to travel to Olympic sites without interacting with anyone outside of their loop. The number of ordinary vehicles on the road will be reduced by allowing cars with certain license plate numbers to drive on certain days in an attempt to reduce traffic congestion.
While non-athletes must quarantine for three-weeks when entering China, athletes will not. Instead, they will undergo mandatory daily testing in order to contain any potential virus cases within the closed loop. Everyone must show proof of full vaccination, get tested before and after landing in Beijing, and then submit to COVID-19 tests each day for the entirety of the Games. Masks will be required, and armpit sensors will monitor the body temperature of athletes at all times.
Spectator tickets are not available to the public. Select residents, who agree to undergo stringent screenings, will fill the stands, and interviews with journalists will take place 6 feet away or behind glass panels.
Official guidelines from the International Olympic Committee suggest that expressions of celebration be limited to clapping, as shouting, cheering, or singing may spread COVID-19 pathogens.
Participants will travel on chartered flights to leave the country in order to limit public contact. Those who choose to remain in China after leaving their bubble following the games will be subjected to the same rules as those traveling from a foreign country back into China and will be subjected to 2- to 3-week quarantine.
China has had remarkable success containing the pandemic, reporting just over 4,600 deaths (according to Our World in Data) since the pandemic began. Time will tell if these stringent protocols can keep the world’s athletes healthy during the Olympic games.
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