What will China’s 2022 Winter Olympics “bubble” look like?

Beijing, which has been kept from the rest of the world for nearly two years, is now preparing for the arrival of thousands upon thousands of foreign Olympians and officials.

China’s zero-Covid strategy will be tested to see if Chinese authorities can keep the Games Covid safe and stop any flare-ups spreading into Beijing. The ruling Communist Party holds up the stringent control and prevention measures as evidence of the power of its authoritarian political system. This strategy has helped keep infections and deaths down, but it has also led to painful lockdowns for millions of people and has isolated China from the rest of the world.

Beijing is now applying the same precautions to the Olympics. The Games will be sealed inside a “closed Loop System” by Beijing to limit infection spread. It’s a barrier that separates the Games from the rest.

This is undoubtedly the most ambitious quarantine ever created. Similar efforts were made by the NBA when they created a quarantine area inside Disney World, Florida to protect players and staff during the 2019-20 season. Beijing’s next attempt at this is quite different.

While the NBA bubble was home to about 350 players representing 22 teams, the Beijing bubble hosts an estimated 11,000 people. They will be traveling through three competition zones that are 111 miles (180km) apart.

The bubble security will require massive planning, meticulous planning, extensive surveillance, and strict government enforcement. Omicron’s arrival has made this even more difficult.

Coronavirus was already detected in Beijing Olympic athletes arriving at the airport.

Wednesday’s statement by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), said that 1.53% of tests performed upon arrival have been confirmed, and that 0.02% are regular screening tests inside the closed loop. It didn’t specify how many tests were performed in either scenario.

“All cases have been received within five days of arrival. They are therefore deemed imported (contracted before arrival in Beijing). The statement stated that no infection occurred in the Closed Loop.

According to the official app for Beijing Winter Games, more than 2000 participants arrived in Beijing as of Friday. Many thousands of Chinese staff and volunteers have spent many days in the closed loop.

Here’s how the bubble works.

The separation

From the moment they arrive at their destination, they will be in a “closed loop”. They will not be allowed to make contact with the larger Chinese population during their stay.

The “closed Loop” includes a number of stadiums, conference centres, and more than 70 hotel rooms. Those in Beijing are closely guarded and fenced off by police. There is even a transportation system that transports participants, with 4,000 vehicles.

Instead of one large Olympic bubble, this system is composed of many smaller mini-bubbles. They are concentrated in three zones: Beijing, where they will hold the ice competitions, opening and closing ceremonies, and the suburb Yanqing district for alpine ski and sliding. Zhangjiakou is a city in neighboring Hebei province which will host Nordic and most of the freestyle skiing events and snowboard events.

The National Aquatics Center, known as the Ice Cube, will host curling at the 2022 Winter Olympics.

These three zones can be linked via highways and high-speed trains. The separation is maintained by dividing the train cars and marking lanes for closed-loop buses. Drivers who drive into these lanes and aren’t Olympic participants will be penalized.

As a sign of how far Chinese authorities are willing to go to prevent the bubble from burst, residents were warned not to rush for help in the event that an Olympic vehicle crashes.

“In the event of traffic accidents involving special vehicles for Winter Olympics, please be aware to keeping a safe distance,” Beijing traffic authorities stated in a social media statement earlier this month. “Do not contact vehicles or personnel inside them. Wait for professionals to arrive on the scene.”

The closed loop will separate athletes, staff, volunteers and other participants from spectators. They have their own transportation and access to the events. Beijing organizers announced this week, that tickets for the Games would not be sold to general public as a response to the pandemic. They will instead be distributed by the authorities.

Jumping into the bubble

China is determined to prevent any Covid cases from ever happening, so it’s already difficult to reach the bubble.

All persons entering the bubble should be fully vaccinated or undergo a 21-day quarantine in Beijing upon arrival.

More than 1 million people apply to enter Beijing's Covid-free Olympic bubble

The journey begins 14 days before departure. To avoid Covid, participants must limit their social interactions. They will also need to use an app each day to upload and answer questions about how they are feeling.

Cybersecurity researchers BewareThe app has security flaws that could expose users to data breaches. Although China has dismissed these concerns, the United States and other nations advise athletes to bring disposable burner smartphones to the Games.

Two Covid tests must be completed before anyone travels to the Games. Most participants must fly charter flights because there are very few international flights that can land in Beijing. They will be greeted in hazmat suits upon arrival and then undergo another test before being transferred to their hotel in designated buses that are escorted with police.

What’s it like inside?

Once inside the bubble, participants must follow strict prevention-control measures. Participants will be tested daily for Covid and must wear masks all day.

Covid is very dangerous. Participants who test positive in Covid will be immediately removed form the Games. Participants who have symptoms will be admitted to a hospital, and those with no symptoms will be isolated. They will not be permitted to return to the bubble until their symptoms have resolved. Additionally, they will need to test negative two times in succession. This will almost certainly cause them to miss their event.

The Beijing Winter Games PCR tests are more rigorous than other sports events like the NBA and NHL. This means that they may return positive with a lower viral load.

The positive test may also impact the person’s coworkers and teammates. Anybody who has been exposed to infected persons without a mask for more than 15 minutes is considered to be a close contact and will receive twice-daily testing.

The number of people who will be in the “closed loop” system was not disclosed by Chinese authorities.

Volunteers from Peking University attend a ceremony ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics on January 20.
Already, there are many Chinese volunteers and staff. The First batch of volunteers16 students, all from Beijing’s University, entered the “closed circle” on January 3, in order to work at Beijing Capital International Airport. First Olympic flight arrived.

Chinese volunteers and staff are required by law to stay for the duration of the event. This will mean that they will be absent from the Lunar New Year holiday. This festival is China’s largest and most important. It’s often compared to New Years, Christmas and Thanksgiving combined. They must be in strict quarantine for 21 days before they can exit the bubble.

Chinese organizers are praising the innovative technology used inside the bubble to keep it Covid-safe.

The stadium for ice hockey will have all-day armpit thermometers that will sound an alarm if someone’s temperature rises to 37.3 degrees. Inside a “Smart canteen“At the main media centre, robots create Western and Chinese dishes behind glass screens. Meals are then delivered by robotic arms from the ceiling.

It will work.

According to the IOC, the IOC suggested that the detection of Covid-19 cases early in arrivals could be a sign that the “closed loop” system is working.

It stated that all data so far has provided confidence that the Closed Loop is safe. This was in addition to the close contact policies and isolation that have been put in place.

Yanzhong, a senior fellow in global health at The Council on Foreign Relations, stated that it was expected and even natural to see cases within an Olympic bubble.

Huang stated that the new variant is highly transmissible, so I am certain there will be infections at the Games. “The question is whether these flare-ups could lead to outbreaks in bubbles or spill out and cause widespread spread throughout the city.

Huang said he was “cautiously optimistic” that China’s zero Covid strategy would succeed, citing “unprecedentedly strict measures.”

The Omicron variant was discovered in Beijing earlier this month. Authorities were quick to lock down an office building as well as a residential compound. There have been several cases in the Delta since then.

Although authorities warned about the double pressure from imported and domestic cases, they maintained a positive tone.

Huang Chun (an official of the Beijing Organizing Committee) stated last week that the overall situation was under control. He stated that there was no plan to close off the city or alter the rules of coronavirus containment for the Winter Olympics.