BEIJING — The competitors have arrived, the competition has started and Friday’s spectacular ceremony officially opened the 2022 Winter Olympics at Beijing. For the athletes and others who attended, the Games this year will be quite different than those of previous years.
International visitors and participants will be kept in a “closed-loop” by organizers.
It prevents Covid from spreading. It keeps residents away from visitors so China can host the Olympics while still following its “zero Covid” strategy. This strategy has been in place since 2019 when the pandemic began in Wuhan.
This strategy poses unique challenges to both athletes and teams, as it did last year during the Tokyo Summer Games.
American snowboarder Jamie Anderson said Wednesday that “this year, it’s been an absolute disaster.”
Anderson, 31, won gold in the slopestyle event at the 2014 Sochi Games (Russia) and then again four years later at South Korea’s 2018 Pyeongchang Games.
Volunteers show the way to an Olympic parking lot outside the “closed-loop” surrounding venues at the Winter Olympics in Beijing. Thomas Peter / Reuters Anderson stated that Anderson and her team were able to concentrate on the competition after they arrived.
The organizers require that all persons entering the “closed-loop”, must be fully vaccinated at a minimum of 14 days prior to their arrival. Otherwise, they would have to quarantine for 21 consecutive days after landing in China.
Participants must show proof of two negative Covid-19 checks before they can take another test after touching down at Beijing Capital International Airport, the only airport that is approved for arrivals. Once inside the bubble, they must submit to daily tests.
Chris Mazdzer, Team USA luger, said Tuesday that “Honestly, it feels so great getting here. Because there were so many Covid tests along the way that was really stressful.”
“You get off the plane, and the people handling your luggage will give you full PPE. Mazdzer is participating in his fourth Game and won silver in Pyeongchang. It’s completely normal. It’s normal to have hundreds of PPE-clad people around you.
Layers of fencing are used to keep people inside the “closed-loop”, while guards watch for anyone who attempts to enter or leave the area without permission.
Visitor’s transport, which includes high-speed trains with separate carriages, entrances, and exits, takes those in the bubble from one facility to another.
Due to the restrictions, public spaces are often empty at venues, with supporters and visitors absent. Friends and family members of athletes have stayed at home. To reduce the spread of the disease, Chinese support staff must undergo Covid testing to enter the bubble. They are then required to quarantine for 21 consecutive days.
Some of Beijing’s attractions are displayed on screens inside the broadcasting center, which is the base for media personnel. This is the closest they’ll get to the city’s tourist hot spots.
Although strict rules were in place in Tokyo last year for the Summer Olympics, visitors were permitted to leave the bubble after two weeks. Beijing will have a different situation.
It’s true that the list of rules is quite long. Beijing’s organizing committee prepared an 84-page playbook for the news media, which outlined all Covid-related rules. The 70-page version was given to athletes.
However, the draconian measures have not prevented infections. However, they have been relatively low in comparison to the thousands of people who have arrived. According to Reuters, 45 Covid cases were reported in that bubble on Friday. This is the second-highest daily total since people began to arrive. Since Jan. 23, 353 participants in the Games tested positive for the virus.
Individuals who test positive for HIV are sent to isolation rooms, where they have no contact with others.
Elana Meyers Taylor is a four-time Olympian who was also the only woman to have won three Olympic bobsled golds for the U.S. She tested positive Saturday and stated that she was just trying to stay fit in her small space.
Meyers Taylor, 37, posted on Twitter Wednesday along with a video showing her running up and then down a narrow aisle in her bedroom.
She was elected flag bearer for U.S. Olympic Team at the opening ceremony, but she was replaced by Brittany Bowe, the speed skater.
Kim Meylemans, a Belgian competitor in the skeleton, was also isolated after she tested positive upon her arrival in China. She had previously tested negative 12 times during the two weeks prior to her trip.
After returning several negative results, she posted a tearful YouTube video to Instagram Wednesday. She said she was taken by ambulance to a hotel for seven more days to isolate, and not to the Olympic Village, as she thought.
After the International Olympic Committee and the Belgian Olympic Committee intervened, she was allowed to remain in an isolated area where she could continue her tests.
She said that she felt safe and would be able “to train a bit better” in the video.
China stated that only select spectators will be permitted to attend events and would need to have negative tests before they can do so. Many Beijing residents support the efforts to stop the pandemic and seem to be taking the strict measures in place with a smile.
Qu Jianguo (54), a resident, stated last month that although it was “a great shame” that the number of spectators was limited.
He said, “We can’t make it difficult in this situation.”
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