Three weeks and a few handfuls of hours before the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Games, the IOC has already taken up residence in the Chinese capital. A first team from Lausanne, led by Christophe Dubi, the director of the Olympic Games, set down their trunks in the middle of last week. Its members are not shy about it, even going so far as to use superlatives: the first impression is “extremely positive” and the sites “exceptional”.
Pierre Ducrey, the IOC’s director of operations for the Olympic Games, explained this during a technical press briefing organised in virtual mode from Beijing on Wednesday 12 January: a thousand accredited guests have already entered the bubble since it was opened on 4 January. So far, so good. And even, come on, a little better than good.
The loop is very safe,” said Pierre Ducrey. it is a place that is difficult to compare to any place in the world at this point in time because here we have a fully vaccinated, often boosted population, that is being tested daily with the PCR and living in the closed loop. it has been built to protect the population inside and the population outside. There can be no contact between the two entities.”
Unlike the Tokyo Games last summer, where vaccination was recommended but not mandatory, the Chinese authorities have imposed a full vaccination course to enter the country. Another difference between the two events is the frequency of testing,” said Pierre Ducrey. In Tokyo, they were daily for athletes and certain other categories of people, but not for everyone. In Beijing, all participants will be tested on a daily basis.
One question remains: the conditions of stay for accredited persons who test positive, or even for contact cases. Pierre Ducrey reiterated and insisted that contact cases will not be subject to a quarantine period. “But they will have to move and eat away from the others,” he said.
For possible positive cases, especially among athletes (there were 33 affected by the virus at the Tokyo 2020 Games), the Chinese organisers have planned a less restrictive protocol than expected. Pierre Ducrey explains: “If you have three consecutive days without symptoms and two consecutive days with a negative test, then you can be released.” Unlike the Tokyo Games, an athlete who tests positive in Beijing will not necessarily have to give up competing.
Another advance is the isolation conditions. In Tokyo last summer, several competitors who tested positive for the coronavirus described on social networks a nightmarish stay in quarantine, locked up in narrow rooms with locked windows.
In Beijing, the isolation facilities for those who test positive will meet “a number of requirements, some of which are detailed in the playbooks.” Pierre Ducrey refers to a three- or four-star standard for asymptomatic patients, with rooms of a certain size, an accessible fitness room, wifi, a variety of meals and medical staff on duty.
But with just over three weeks to go before the opening, the question of the public still remains unanswered. Pierre Ducrey acknowledged on Wednesday 12 January that the presence of the public on the competition sites is currently the subject of “conversations” within the organising committee. But the IOC says it has no information about the outcome of the debate to date.
The Chinese are obviously putting off announcing that the Beijing Games will be held in front of empty stands, just like the Tokyo Games. But the decision seems inevitable. It is hard to imagine China having set up the most hermetic bubble in history, with no contact whatsoever with the outside world, only to let spectators push open the doors of the venues and watch the events.