Where EAST meets the Northwest
Asian Reporter web extra, January 25, 2022
Volunteers wearing face coverings to help protect from the coronavirus chat
with each other at an information booth for the Beijing Winter Olympics Games at
Qianmen Street, a popular tourist spot in Beijing, on January 23, 2022. Chinese
authorities have called on the public to stay where they are during the Lunar
New Year instead of travelling to their hometowns for the year’s most important
family holiday. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Clap, don’t chant: China aims for "Zero COVID" Olympics
By Candice Choi
The Associated Press
Athletes will need to be vaccinated — or face a long quarantine — take tests
daily, and wear masks when not competing or training. Clapping is OK to cheer on
teammates, not chanting. Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 will be sent
into isolation and unable to compete until cleared for discharge.
Welcome to the Beijing Olympics, where strict containment measures will aim
to create a virus-proof "bubble" for thousands of international visitors at a
time when omicron is fuelling infections globally.
The prevention protocols will be similar to those at the Tokyo Games this
summer, but much tighter. That won’t be a stretch in Beijing, with China having
maintained a "Zero COVID" policy since early in the pandemic.
Still, China’s ability to stick to its zero-tolerance approach nationally is
already being tested by the highly transmissible omicron variant, which is more
contagious than earlier variants of the virus and better able to evade
protection from vaccines.
With just weeks to go before the February 4 start of the games, more than 20
million people in six cities have been under lockdown after recent outbreaks.
Here’s how the games will work.
Do athletes have to be vaccinated?
Yes, athletes and other participants including team staff and news media need
to be fully vaccinated to be allowed in the designated Olympic areas without
completing a 21-day quarantine. Those areas will consist of the Olympic Village,
game venues, other select spots, and dedicated transport.
That’s different from the Tokyo Games, where participants didn’t have to be
Participants are considered fully vaccinated according to the definitions
outlined by their countries. Before boarding their flights, everyone also needs
to provide two recent negative tests from approved labs.
The threat of being sidelined by a positive test is adding to the pressure
Mogul skier Hannah Soar said she’s avoiding contact with people indoors and
behaving as if everyone has the virus: "We’re basically at the point of acting
like it’s March 2020."
What about daily life?
Upon arrival at the airport in Beijing, participants will have their
temperatures taken and be tested with throat and nasal swabs. An Olympics
official who recently arrived on site said at a press briefing the process took
him 45 minutes, though organizers note times might vary.
A bus will then take people to their designated lodging, where they’ll wait
up to six hours for test results to clear them to move about in approved areas.
Restrictions on movement within that "closed loop" are intended to seal off any
potential contact between Olympic participants and the local population.
Throat swabs for testing will be required daily for all participants. In
Tokyo, participants spit into vials for antigen tests.
Standard prevention measures are being encouraged, such as ventilating rooms
and keeping a distance of about 3 feet from others — or 6 feet from athletes.
Masks that are N95 or of a similar caliber will also be required in indoor
and outdoor areas with few exceptions, such as when people are eating or
drinking. Dining halls will have partitions and seating capacity will be reduced
to help maintain distancing.
In spaces where distancing isn’t possible, such as elevators, talking isn’t
allowed. Staff will be stationed in key areas to help guide people and ensure
protocols are being followed.
What happens if an athlete tests positive?
In Tokyo, organizers say 33 athletes tested positive during the games. Of
those, 22 were withdrawn from competition. Even with the tightened precautions
in Beijing, experts say some positive tests are likely, especially with omicron
If an athlete or other participant tests positive but doesn’t have symptoms,
they’ll need to go into isolation in a dedicated hotel. They’ll be provided with
meals and can open their windows for fresh air but won’t be able to leave their
rooms, which organizers say will be about 270 square feet.
Athletes can request fitness equipment for training.
People with no symptoms can leave isolation after two days of negative tests.
Organizers say those testing positive will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis,
but it might still be too late for athletes to compete.
As a general rule, organizers say the panel will review those who keep
testing positive for more than 14 days.
Those who test positive and have symptoms have to go into isolation in a
hospital. They’ll also need two days of negative tests to be let loose, as well
as three days of normal temperatures and symptoms subsiding.
Organizers have said athletes who recover after testing positive ahead of the
games will also be assessed on a case-by-case basis in a "more flexible manner."
Will there be fans?
Spectators from overseas won’t be allowed. As for local fans, Beijing
organizers say they’re finalizing rules for their attendance.
It’s not clear how the recent outbreaks around China will factor into the
decisions. But organizers of the Tokyo Games had also planned to allow some
domestic fans, before scrapping the idea because a surge in local cases. The
result was surreal scenes of athletes competing in empty stadiums.
Even if some fans are allowed in Beijing, their presence will be muted.
Everyone is being asked to clap instead of shouting or singing, as had been the
plan in Tokyo.
Can it work?
Despite the omicron-fuelled surge hitting many parts of the world including
China, organizers may still be able to pull off the Olympics without as much
disruption as some fear.
Olympic athletes are highly motivated to avoid infection so they can compete,
noted Dr. Sandro Galea, a public health expert at Boston University. And even if
it’s harder with omicron, he noted it’s no mystery what people need to do to
avoid infection — take prevention measures, such as limiting exposure to others.
AP Sports Writer Pat Graham contributed from Denver.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the
Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is
solely responsible for all content.
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