— Published 26 October 2021

The Beijing Winter Games, life in a closed circuit

Only five months separate the end of the Tokyo Paralympic Games, on Sunday, September 5th, 2021, and the start of the Beijing Winter Games on Friday, February 4th, 2022. One hundred and fifty days. Next to nothing. Clearly too little time to change the sanitary context even one iota.

On Monday, October 25th, the IOC, the IPC and the Beijing 2022 Organising Committee published the first version of the playbooks detailing the anti-COVID-19 measures planned for the next Olympic and Paralympic Games. It looks like a sister to the edition branded with the Tokyo 2020 Games logo. The same constraints apply to accredited guests, who are invited to live the Olympic experience in a sealed bubble cut off from the world.

Han Zirong, the vice-president and secretary general of the Beijing 2022 Organising Committee, sums it up in a statement issued by the IOC: “We have placed the highest priority on the safety and health protection of all participants in the Games, especially the athletes, as well as the Chinese population. We have been guided by the experience of other international sporting events and by China’s current anti-COVID-19 policy. We will work with all stakeholders to implement the playbooks and together we will provide the world with simplified, safe and splendid Games.”

Cool. But, in reality, the Beijing 2022 Games are shaping up to be at least as strict as the summer version proposed by the Japanese in Tokyo 2020. The playbooks are based on five pillars. They leave no room for improvisation.

Vaccination. It is not compulsory. At least in the texts. In practice, unvaccinated participants will have to prepare for 21 days of isolation on arrival in China. For the others, “fully vaccinated at least 14 days before departure for China”, no quarantine will be required. The playbook says: “For athletes and team officials, exceptions may be granted on a case-by-case basis with medical justification.” At least two countries, the United States and Canada, have already taken the lead in deciding that vaccination would be mandatory to be part of the delegation.

Life at the Games. It promises to be even more closely monitored than at the Tokyo 2020 Games. “A special system has been defined to ensure the safety of the participants in the Games and the Chinese population by reducing unnecessary interactions,” explains the IOC. This means that all accredited persons will live in a closed circuit during their stay in China. They will not be allowed to go outside the bubble, i.e. to mix with the population. At the Tokyo Games, the media were free to move around once the 14 days had passed since they entered Japan. This included the use of public transport.

Wearing a mask. It will be mandatory in all circumstances. Chinese organisers also recommend “avoiding enclosed spaces, crowded spaces and places with close contact.” Anti-COVID-19 tests will be carried out daily, throughout the stay in China. Nothing new under the sun.

Tracing. The details are not yet revealed, but the IOC warns: “Strict protocols will be in place to identify carriers of the virus as soon as possible through screening tests; to find out who may have been infected by tracing contacts; and to use isolation and quarantine to stop the spread of the virus”. Again, nothing very new. The Japanese in Tokyo set an example by requiring accredited staff to download tracking applications onto their smartphones. But installing them proved so complex that many, including the media, were never able to complete the process.

COVID-19 liaison officers. A Japanese invention for Tokyo 2020, the now famous CLOs remain relevant. The IOC press release insists: “Each organisation participating in the Games will soon be invited to designate one or more COVID-19 liaison officers. They will assist participants in the Games and ensure that they understand the content of the playbooks and the importance of complying with them.”

One question remains: travel. Chinese organisers announced on Monday, October 25th, that they were encouraging airlines to fly delegations on charter flights, with no passengers other than Winter Games participants. The Americans are particularly preparing for this. But the task looks more complex for countries where the delegation will have only a few representatives.

This first edition of the playbooks has been published in two versions. The first is for athletes and coaches, the second is for all other accredited persons (media, volunteers, sponsors, international federations, etc.).

A second, more detailed and specific version is expected to be published before the end of the year.