BBC: Beijing 2022: China readies for Winter Olympics as pressure grows


For the first time since the original coronavirus outbreak closed China’s borders, the country is preparing to allow foreigners to enter again in large numbers for the winter Olympics next February.

This had not seemed like it would pose much of a problem. People had become accustomed to life without many Covid restrictions, with authorities stamping out each outbreak of the virus as it came along.

But everything changed when the highly-contagious Delta variant made its way into China via an airport in the eastern city of Nanjing.

In July and August it quickly spread to dozens of cities and towns, threatening China’s status of having the virus controlled.

As they had before, authorities pursued a goal of full elimination.

The strategy is always the same. Phone app health clearance is implemented in order to enter public buildings, track and trace methods go into overdrive and, as infected people are identified, their housing estates placed into lockdown.

Entry and exit to the Olympic city can be controlled if needed. Transport links from high-risk areas can be suspended and travellers coming to the capital Beijing from medium risk locations could be required to have negative coronavirus tests.

With these tools, officials are hoping to have zero domestic Covid infections when the Winter Games begin.

This will have a major impact on the look and feel of the Olympics.

But this does not necessarily mean no spectators.

Beijing-based Canadian winter sport specialist Justin Downes has been advising Games organisers. He says local officials have been studying how Tokyo managed coronavirus risks for athletes and the decision there to not have crowds.

“The government has already said that, at least at this stage, that they are expecting full stands of spectators,” he told the BBC. “We don’t know how many of those will be from overseas at this point but certainly the games will be well-supported by spectators from China: no question.”

I asked how this would be achieved. With bubbles?

“That’s the current discussion,” he said. “I mean the organising committee and relevant authorities are not releasing any of these plans until September, so yeah there will definitely be some sort of a bubble involving the athletes and there will be discussion as to who’s vaccinated and who’s not and how those flows work. But, from a winter sports perspective, they tested all of these protocols in Europe last year.”

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