Athletes must be vaccinated – or face a long quarantine – take tests daily and wear masks when not competing or training. It’s OK to clap to cheer on teammates, not to sing. Anyone tested positive for COVID-19 will be sent in isolation and unable to compete before being approved for printing.
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 nurturing infections globally.
The prevention protocols will be similar to those at the Tokyo Games this summer, but much tighter. It will not be a stretch in Beijing where China has maintained one “Zero COVID” policy since the beginning of the pandemic.
Yet China’s ability to stick to its zero-tolerance approach nationally is already being tested by the highly transferable omicron variant, which is more contagious than previous variants of the virus and better able to avoid protection against vaccines.
With just weeks to go before the game launches on February 4, more than 20 million people in six cities are under lockdown following recent outbreaks.
Here’s how the games work.
SHOULD ATHLETES BE VACCINATED?
Yes, athletes and other participants, including team personnel and news media, must be fully vaccinated to be allowed in the designated Olympic areas without completing a 21-day quarantine. These areas will consist of the Olympic Village, venues, other selected locations and dedicated transportation.
It’s different than Tokyo Games, where participants were not to be vaccinated.
Participants are considered fully vaccinated according to the definitions outlined by their countries. Before boarding their aircraft, everyone must also provide two recent negative tests from approved laboratories.
The threat of being put on the sidelines by a positive test increases the pressure on athletes.
Mogul skier Hannah Soar said she avoids contact with people indoors and behaves as if everyone has the virus: “We are basically behaving as if it is March 2020.”
Upon arrival at the Beijing airport, participants will have their temperatures taken and tested with throat and nose swabs. An Olympic official who recently arrived at the scene said at a press briefing that the process took him 45 minutes, although organizers note that times may vary.
A bus will then take people to their designated lodging, where they will wait up to six hours for test results to clear them to move in approved areas. Restrictions on movement within the “closed circuit” are intended to close any potential contact between Olympic participants and the local population.
Throat samples for testing will be required daily for all participants. In Tokyo, participants spit in vials for antigen testing.
Standard preventative measures are encouraged, such as ventilating spaces and keeping a distance of about 3 feet (1 meter) from others – or 6 feet (2 meters) from athletes.
Masks that are N95 or of similar caliber will also be required in indoor and outdoor areas with few exceptions, such as when people are eating or drinking. The dining rooms will have partitions and the seating capacity will be reduced to help maintain the distance.
In rooms where distance is not possible, such as elevators, speech is not allowed. Staff will be deployed in key areas to help guide people and ensure that 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 drawn from the competition. Even with the tougher measures in Beijing, experts say some positive tests are likely, especially with omicron in play.
If an athlete or other participant tests positive but has no symptoms, they should be isolated in a dedicated hotel. They will be provided with meals and can open their windows too fresh air but will not be able to leave their rooms, which the organizers say will be about 270 square feet (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 reviewed 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 keep testing positive for more than 14 days.
Those who test positive and have symptoms should be in isolation in a hospital. They also need two days of negative tests to be released, as well as three days of normal temperatures and symptoms subsiding.
Organizers have said athletes are recovering tests positive prior to the Games will also be assessed on a case-by-case basis in a “more flexible manner.”
Spectators from abroad will not be allowed. As for local fans, Beijing organizers say they are finalizing the rules for their participation.
It is not clear how the recent outbreaks around China will take into account the decisions. But the organizers of the Tokyo Games had also planned to allow some domestic fans before scrapping the idea due to a wave in local cases. The result was surreal scenes of athletes competing in empty stadiums.
Although some fans are allowed in Beijing, their presence will be subdued. Everyone is asked to clap instead of shouting or singing, as had been the plan in Tokyo.
Despite the omicron-driven wave hitting many parts of the world, including China, the organizers may still be able to complete 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 while it’s harder with omicron, he noted that it’s no mystery what people should do to avoid infection – take preventative measures, such as limiting exposure to others.
AP Sports Writer Pat Graham contributed from Denver.
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