A volunteer performs in the course of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony on Day 16 of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics at Beijing Nationwide Stadium on February 20, 2022 in Beijing, China. Credit score – Wei Zheng/CHINASPORTS/VCG through Getty Photographs
China promised a “easy, secure, and splendid” Beijing Olympics. Whereas the frilly, 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 world well being disaster. There’s additionally little doubt that the occasion was secure.
COVID-19 has been surging all over the world, fueled by the extra contagious Omicron variant. On Dec. 27, simply over a month earlier than the Winter Video games started, international day by day COVID-19 circumstances hit a document 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.
For China, containing the coronavirus on an epic scale just isn’t 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 possibly’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 “stay 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 for the reason that begin of the pandemic.
On this context, it was very important that the staging of the Olympics—with hundreds of members 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: members and venues have been confined to epidemiological bubbles, strictly segregated from the town at massive.
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“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 College 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 referred to as the closed loop “one of many most secure” locations on Earth.
Though some athletes pushed again in opposition to 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 completed 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.”
How the Beijing Olympics stored Omicron at bay
Beijing is the second metropolis to stage the Video games in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it tried to study as a lot because it might from Tokyo’s an infection management playbook for the Summer time Olympics final yr. A surge in circumstances occurred after the Tokyo Video games led to August. Each the IOC and Japan denied that the Video games precipitated the spike, however this was an space that Beijing particularly needed to handle.
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 might not spend Lunar New Yr—China’s most essential vacation—with their family members. To forestall any likelihood of a post-Olympics outbreak, additionally they consented to bear a 21-day quarantine after the Olympics earlier than being allowed dwelling. One volunteer mentioned “skilled psychological coaching” was given to assist them modify “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—not less than 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 individual 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 gained gold in 2014 and 2018 however didn’t medal in Beijing—informed USA At this time that many of the U.S. snowboard group was “uninterested in the stress,” and “a bit bit tapped out.” Some athletes testing constructive complained concerning the lack of coaching gear and the standard of the meals in quarantine, though gripes do appear to have been ultimately 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, despite the fact that subsequent assessments have been adverse. She was introduced again to the Olympic Village just a few 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 informed media. However he mentioned that whereas the isolation services 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, informed Australian state-funded broadcaster ABC that common testing contained in the bubble gave her “numerous peace of thoughts” and allowed her to concentrate on 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, apart from a bus, my room or the rink,” he lauded what he thought was a “nice” environment within the Video games. As for the restrictions, Messing informed TIME that athletes had have already got been coping with COVID measures for many of the season: “So how strict Beijing is, it’s simply actually one other competitors for us.”
Amongst athletes testing constructive, just a few have been unable to really compete. Vincent Zhou needed to withdraw from the lads’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 check finish the dream of constructing the rostrum. Three-time U.S. bobsled medalist Elana Meyers Taylor recovered from an infection in Beijing—and bagged silver for the inaugural girls’s monobob occasion.
Studying from Beijing’s ‘closed loop’ system
Classes on find out how to stage a virus-free worldwide occasion might be realized from the Beijing Olympics, consultants say, even in international locations that don’t observe zero-COVID insurance policies. “You may 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 normal that isn’t essentially what different locations that aren’t striving for zero COVID might want to put into place.”
Learn extra: Don’t Anticipate China to Ease Its Zero-COVID Coverage Quickly
It might 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 is going to occur,” says Grépin.
However placing collectively tens of hundreds of individuals in a closed loop, with many flying in from international locations presently 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 informed reporters. “It might ship the message to the world that if all people is respecting the principles in solidarity, and if all people’s contributing, then you may even have such an ideal occasion like Olympic Winter Video games underneath the phrases of such a pandemic.”