China aims for ‘Zero COVID’ Olympics

Athletes will need to be vaccinated — or undergo a long quarantine — undergo daily tests and wear masks when not competing or training. Clapping is OK to encourage teammates, not to chant. Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 will be sent into isolation and will not be able to participate until fired.

Welcome to the Beijing Olympics, where strict containment measures will aim to create a virus-resistant “bubble” for thousands of international visitors at a time when omicron is fueling infections worldwide.

Prevention protocols will be similar to those at the Tokyo Games this summer, but much tighter. It won’t be long in Beijing, as China has a “Zero COVID” policies since the start of the pandemic.

Still, China’s ability to stick to its zero-tolerance approach nationally is already being tested by the highly contagious variant omicron, which is more contagious than previous versions of the virus and better able to evade protection by vaccines.

Still, China’s ability to stick nationally to its zero-tolerance approach is already being tested by the highly contagious Omicron variant, which more contagious than previous variants of the virus. With just weeks to go before the Games start on February 4, more than 20 million people have been locked up in six cities following recent outbreaks.

Here’s how the Games will work.

SHOULD ATHLETES BE VACCINED?

Yes, athletes and other participants, including team personnel and news media, must be fully vaccinated to be admitted to the designated Olympic areas without completing a 21-day quarantine. Those areas will consist of the Olympic Village, play locations, other selected spots, and special transportation.

That’s different from the Playing in Tokyo, where participants did not need to be vaccinated.

Participants are considered fully vaccinated according to the definitions established by their country. Before boarding, everyone must also provide two recent negative tests from approved labs.

The threat of being sidelined by a positive test increases the pressure on athletes.

Mogul skier Hannah Soar said she avoids contact with people indoors and acts like everyone has the virus: “We’re actually about to pretend it’s March 2020.”

THE DAILY LIFE?

On arrival at the airport in Beijing, the participants’ temperatures are measured and they are tested with throat and nose swabs. An Olympic official who recently arrived on the scene said at a news conference that the process took him 45 minutes, although organizers note times may vary.

A bus then takes people to their designated accommodation, where they wait up to six hours for the test results to clear them up to move around approved areas. Movement restrictions within that “closed loop” are intended to cut off any possible contact between Olympic participants and the local population.

Throat swabs for testing are required daily for all participants. In Tokyo, participants spit in bottles for antigen testing.

Standard prevention measures are encouraged, such as ventilating rooms and keeping a distance of about 3 feet (1 meter) from others — or 6 feet (2 meters) from athletes.

Masks of N95 or a similar caliber are also required in indoor and outdoor areas, with a few exceptions, such as when people are eating or drinking. Dining rooms will have dividing walls and seating capacity will be reduced to maintain distance.

Talking is not allowed in areas where distancing is not possible, such as elevators. Staff will be stationed in key areas to assist people and ensure protocols are 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 the competition. Even with the tightened precautions in Beijing, experts say some positive tests are likely, especially with ommicron at play.

If an athlete or other participant tests positive but has no symptoms, they must go into isolation at a special hotel. They get meals and can open their windows for fresh air but will not be able to leave their rooms, which according to the organizers will be about 25 square meters.

Athletes can request fitness equipment for training.

People without symptoms can leave isolation after two days of negative tests. Organizers say those who test positive will be assessed on a case-by-case basis, but it may still be too late for athletes to compete.

As a general rule, organizers say the panel will review those who continue to test positive for more than 14 days.

Those who test positive and have symptoms should be isolated in a hospital. They also need two days of negative tests to let go, as well as three days of normal temperatures and symptoms clearing up.

Organizers have said that athletes recovering after positive test prior to the Games will also be assessed on a case-by-case basis in a “more flexible manner”.

WILL THERE BE FANS?

Spectators from abroad are not allowed. As for local fans, Beijing organizers say they are finalizing the rules for their attendance.

It is not clear how the recent outbreaks in China will play a role in the decisions. But the Tokyo Games organizers also planned to admit some domestic fans before scrapping the idea because a strong increase in local cases. The result was surreal scenes of athletes competing in empty stadiums.

Even if some fans are allowed into Beijing, their presence is muted. Everyone is asked to clap instead of shouting or singing, as was the plan in Tokyo.

CAN IT WORK?

Despite the ommicron-fuelled wave that is hitting many parts of the world, including China, organizers may still be able to continue the Olympics without too much disruption as the only fear.

Olympic athletes are highly motivated to avoid infection so they can compete, 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 should do to avoid infection — take preventative measures, such as limiting exposure to others.

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AP Sports Writer Pat Graham contributed from Denver.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Source China aims for ‘Zero COVID’ Olympics

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