What the World Can Learn from China’s COVID-19 Rules at the Winter Olympics

China promised a “easy, protected, and splendid” Beijing Olympics. Whereas the flowery, anti-COVID measures on the 2022 Winter Video games have been removed from easy, organizers managed to placed on a present, even amid the constrained circumstances of a worldwide well being disaster. There’s additionally little question that the occasion was protected.

COVID-19 has been surging world wide, fueled by the extra contagious Omicron variant. On Dec. 27, simply over a month earlier than the Winter Video games started, international each day COVID-19 circumstances hit a file 1.44 million.

Regardless of these daunting circumstances, Olympics organizers had recorded solely 437 infections on the Video games by the point the flame was extinguished at Beijing Nationwide Stadium on Feb. 20. Although greater than 180 athletes and group officers examined constructive after arriving in China, there have been no main disruptions to occasions attributable to outbreaks.
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For China, containing the coronavirus on an epic scale will not be new. The nation unhesitatingly places complete cities on weeks-long lockdown, and conducts huge testing, tracing, and vaccination operations, underneath its “dynamic zero COVID” coverage. It could actually’t afford to do in any other case: some estimates present that China would have suffered as many as 200 million infections and three million deaths by now, if it had tried to “reside with the virus” as most international locations do. As a substitute, lower than 131,000 circumstances and 4,924 deaths have been recorded in China because the begin of the pandemic.

On this context, it was important that the staging of the Olympics—with 1000’s of individuals arriving from 91 international locations—not result in a wider neighborhood outbreak. To guard its residents, China ran the Beijing Olympics on a strict “closed loop” system: individuals and venues have been confined to epidemiological bubbles, strictly segregated from the town at massive.

Learn extra: What to Know In regards to the 2022 Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony

“They mainly considered the bubble as an analogous type of setting [to the rest of the country],” says Karen Grépin, an affiliate professor on the Faculty of Public Well being on the College of Hong Kong.

It labored. Individuals testing constructive recovered within the loop, with many persevering with to compete. Talking at a press convention on Feb. 18, Worldwide Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach mentioned the an infection charge on the occasion stayed at 0.01%. He known as the closed loop “one of many most secure” locations on Earth.

Though some athletes pushed again towards the pains of Beijing’s strategy, the Winter Video games demonstrated China’s functionality to maintain Omicron at bay—one thing no different nation has finished successfully. They reveal simply how a lot cooperation, group, and expenditure are required to stage a big scale worldwide occasion safely. Grépin calls the Olympics “an unlimited planning effort,” based mostly on “two years of actually good information and proof when it comes to how COVID-19 spreads.”

Beijing 2022 Olympics: freestyle skiing, women's moguls victory ceremony
Sergei BobylevTASS through Getty Photos Volunteers carry indicators to provide visible indicators permitting the medallists to take off their masks through the ladies’s moguls victory ceremony on the Medal Plaza on Feb. 7, 2022, as a part of the 2022 Winter Olympic Video games.

How the Beijing Olympics stored Omicron at bay

Beijing is the second metropolis to stage the Video games through the COVID-19 pandemic, and it tried to be taught as a lot because it may from Tokyo’s an infection management playbook for the Summer time Olympics final 12 months. A surge in circumstances occurred after the Tokyo Video games resulted in August. Each the IOC and Japan denied that the Video games brought about the spike, however this was an space that Beijing particularly wished to deal with.

Round 19,000 native volunteers agreed to spend as much as two months away from their households to assist out on the Video games. It meant that they’d not spend Lunar New 12 months—China’s most necessary vacation—with their family members. To stop any probability of a post-Olympics outbreak, in addition they consented to bear a 21-day quarantine after the Olympics earlier than being allowed residence. One volunteer mentioned “skilled psychological coaching” was given to assist them regulate “our psychological state.”

From the time Beijing’s closed loop system took impact on Jan. 23, organizers administered greater than 1.8 million COVID-19 assessments—at the least one per day for everybody concerned. Masks and contract-tracing apps have been naturally obligatory. On-site spectators have been stored at a minimal. As a televised and on-line spectacle, the 2022 Olympics have been essentially the most watched Winter Video games ever. However over its 19 days, solely 150,000 folks noticed in particular person the sporting occasions in Beijing and neighboring Zhangjiakou.

Athletes, upon arriving in China, needed to largely keep of their rooms when not coaching or competing. Not all have been as much as the problem. U.S. snowboarder Jamie Anderson—who received gold in 2014 and 2018 however didn’t medal in Beijing—instructed USA Right now that a lot of the U.S. snowboard group was “bored with the stress,” and “just a little bit tapped out.” Some athletes testing constructive complained concerning the lack of coaching tools and the standard of the meals in quarantine, though gripes do appear to have been finally addressed. Belgian competitor Kim Meylemans briefly made headlines with a tearful Instagram video after she examined constructive for COVID-19 on arrival in Beijing and was despatched to an isolation facility, though subsequent assessments have been adverse. She was introduced again to the Olympic Village a number of hours later.

Learn extra: What Occurs if an Athlete Will get COVID-19 at 2022 Olympics?

“Such type of isolation is a problem for everyone, however for the athletes, it’s the heaviest to bear,” Bach instructed media. However he mentioned that whereas the isolation amenities in Beijing “didn’t work completely,” Olympic officers made efforts to repair points that got here up.

Many athletes really welcomed the an infection management protocols. American freestyle skier Aaron Blunck mentioned that China did a “stellar job” with the COVID-19 measures. Britt Cox, a four-time Olympian, instructed Australian state-funded broadcaster ABC that common testing contained in the bubble gave her “loads of peace of thoughts” and allowed her to deal with competing.

Canadian determine skater Keegan Messing missed the group skating sporting occasion after testing constructive for COVID-19 earlier than his flight to Beijing, however recovered simply in time to journey to the Olympics and skate within the males’s single’s class. Whereas he “had not seen something of Beijing, aside from a bus, my room or the rink,” he lauded what he thought was a “nice” ambiance within the Video games. As for the restrictions, Messing instructed TIME that athletes had have already got been coping with COVID measures for a lot of the season: “So how strict Beijing is, it’s simply actually one other competitors for us.”

Amongst athletes testing constructive, only some have been unable to really compete. Vincent Zhou needed to withdraw from the boys’s determine skating competitors after testing constructive, however that was after he helped the U.S. win silver in group determine skating. (No different group members examined constructive.) Neither did a constructive take a look at finish the dream of creating the rostrum. Three-time U.S. bobsled medalist Elana Meyers Taylor recovered from an infection in Beijing—and bagged silver for the inaugural ladies’s monobob occasion.

Daily Covid Testing As Snow Descends - Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Day 9
Annice Lyn/Getty Photos A snowman seen sporting a face masks at an COVID testing sales space on February 13, 2022 in Beijing, China.

Studying from Beijing’s ‘closed loop’ system

Classes on learn how to stage a virus-free worldwide occasion could be discovered from the Beijing Olympics, specialists say, even in international locations that don’t observe zero-COVID insurance policies. “You would possibly obtain some resistance,” says Dr. Huang Yanzhong, senior fellow for international well being on the Council of International Relations, “however I nonetheless consider that’s doable.”

Grépin agrees, saying that Beijing has set a brand new benchmark: “It’s form of a gold customary that isn’t essentially what different locations that aren’t striving for zero COVID might want to put into place.”

Learn extra: Don’t Count on China to Ease Its Zero-COVID Coverage Quickly

It could be untimely to name the closed-loop system a complete success. The system will nonetheless be in place till the top of the Paralympics in March, and solely when volunteers re-enter the neighborhood will its effectiveness be actually identified. “After they dismantle the bubble, we’re going to have to check and see what’s going to occur,” says Grépin.

However placing collectively tens of 1000’s of individuals in a closed loop, with many flying in from international locations at the moment being ravaged by Omicron, and managing to maintain a extremely contagious illness at bay, is a feat that may’t be denied to China.

“This can be a nice achievement,” Bach instructed reporters. “It could ship the message to the world that if all people is respecting the foundations in solidarity, and if all people’s contributing, then you’ll be able to even have such an ideal occasion like Olympic Winter Video games underneath the phrases of such a pandemic.”


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