Wednesday, June 29

Keeping the Olympics Covid-free: Life inside Beijing’s ‘closed-loop’ bubble | 2022 Winter Olympics


B.Before Zhang Hua goes down to breakfast, he puts on a mask and rubber gloves. She leaves her hotel room and walks through the halls keeping a safe distance from others. He then boards a specially commissioned bus that takes him through lanes dedicated to his work, helping foreign broadcasters prepare for the Winter Olympics.

At the media center, you take your daily Covid test and might eat a meal delivered by a robot. Depending on where she’s staying, Zhang may be allowed to visit her hotel’s gym later or go to another hotel’s restaurant, but otherwise, this is the only trip she can take.

This is life inside one of the “closed-loop” bubbles created by China in a bid to keep the Winter Olympics, which start on February 4, Covid-free. Zhang, who used a pseudonym, has been inside a bubble since January 21.

“With the buses, getting out is easy,” he told The Guardian. “That [the loop] It doesn’t affect the way we work very much, but it does affect our lives, especially meals, and life isn’t as free as it is off the loop.”

Russian lugers arriving at Beijing airport
Russian lugers arriving at Beijing airport. Photography: Sergei Bobylev/Tass

Throughout the pandemic, the Chinese government has maintained, with great success, a “zero-Covid” strategy, assisted by strict border controls.

Just a few months ago, weeks went by without community cases and outbreaks were quickly brought under control. But then Omicron arrived.

The number of cases is low relative to the rest of the world, but infections have been found in multiple provinces and cities, including Beijing. The closed-loop system is now tasked with not only keeping the Games as covid-free as possible, but also ensuring that the influx of some 11,000 foreign athletes, officials, employees and guests does not spark a broader outbreak that China does not. can control.

What is the loop?

The “closed loop” system designed for the Games consists of three interconnected competition zone bubbles, where participants and employees will work or compete, eat and sleep, without coming into contact with the general population.

The first covers downtown Beijing and the ice competition venues and opening and closing ceremonies. The second is the suburban site of Yanqing for alpine skiing and toboggan events, and the third is in Zhangjiakou, 200 km (125 miles) northwest of Hebei province, for Nordic biathlon, freestyle skiing and snowboarding events.

Security guards at the fence of the media center
Security guards at the media center fence.
Photograph: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Each has a number of designated stadiums and venues, convention centers and dozens of hotels, and are connected by high-speed trains with designated circle cars and highways with dedicated circle lanes. Other drivers who cross into these lanes face tickets, and people have been warned not to rush to help if a circular vehicle is in an accident.

arriving

The process for foreign participants begins long before they arrive in Beijing. For two weeks before departure, they must monitor and upload their temperature and other information to a health app every day.

After receiving two negative Covid tests within 24 hours, they will board a dedicated plane. When they disembark in Beijing, they will be greeted by workers in biohazard suits.

“At the airport it’s a little scary, it’s almost like a hospital that was treating covid patients in the second wave,” a journalist told the Associated Press.

Participants will pass through dedicated gates and receive their third test, before one of approximately 4,000 special vehicles takes them to their bubble and a hotel protected from the public.

They will be watched over and protected by officials who have been through three weeks of quarantine and isolation, and assisted by thousands of staff like Zhang, who will have to quarantine again before he can go home. In at least one location, employees wear armpit thermometers that sound an alarm if their temperature gets too high.

What happens if someone tests positive?

A participant who tests positive goes to a quarantine isolation center or hospital if they are sick. I could start with a midnight knocks on the door.

The isolation rooms are about 25 square meters and have a window that can be opened. People staying in the rooms will get three meals a day and free Wi-Fi, according to the Games playbook, and will be there for at least 10 days. If they show no symptoms and tests show a low viral load for three consecutive days, they can rejoin the closed circuit under close contact measures.

People who are close contacts and whose work may be done by someone else must go to the isolation center for at least 21 days, or leave China within 24 hours after the negative test. If your job is critical or you are a competitor, you should isolate in your room, travel alone to competitions, train in your room or in an isolated space, and get tested every day, including six hours before your event. So far, only a few athletes have tested positive since arriving in Beijing. Some, like American bobsled runner Josh Williamson, caught Covid while still at home. Williamson hopes to recover and test negative in time to get to Beijing for his team event on February 15.

“Isn’t it ironic,” he said recently, “that after four years of hard work, all that’s left to do is sit back, rest, recover, and have faith? The things that are hardest for me to do.

after games

The Tokyo Summer Olympics were also held under extraordinary anti-pandemic measures, but foreigners were allowed to travel around the city after two weeks. At the end of the Beijing Games, everyone will be sent directly home on a plane without detours.

For some of the visiting foreigners, the closed circuit is a frustrating experience: so close and yet so far from outside life. Zhang says he is happy with the measures and supports China’s efforts to combat Covid, but he is concerned about the added complexities and influx of people.

Outbreaks and lockdowns are still occurring across the country. Beijing has shown no signs of changing its zero-Covid strategy and is betting its international and domestic reputations on the closed-loop system and hosting a successful, outbreak-free Olympics.

Additional reporting by Xiaoqian Zhu


www.theguardian.com

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