Beijing’s Olympic bubble includes police escorts, daily COVID-19 tests and robot chefs

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A security guard walks past a giant video screen at the media center inside the ‘bubble’ in Beijing on January 13 ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.FRANCOIS-XAVIER MARIT/AFP/Getty Images

In an isolated section of Beijing airport, arrivals for next month’s Winter Olympics are greeted by staff in white protective gear and undergo COVID-19 tests and baggage swabs before being whisked away in police-escorted buses to fenced-off hotels.

Unlike the Tokyo Games last summer, which took place in a porous “bubble”, the perimeters of Beijing’s “closed loop” are sealed off and guarded – precautions that will be put to the test as the highly transmission of Omicron is sweeping the world.

At the entrance to the main media center this week, security personnel kept a locked gate, police cars sat nearby and signs on temporary fencing warned those in the area of ​​the “end of the closed loop”.

Once inside, people cannot leave until they have left the country or completed several weeks of quarantine. This includes around 20,000 Chinese volunteers and employees at the sites that will enter the loop.

Foreign participants, arriving mainly on special charter flights, enter the loop as soon as they land at Beijing Capital International Airport. Early arrivals say their buses were escorted by police to their hotel.

The authorities are determined to create a physical barrier between the participants and the general population. On Sunday, Beijing officials warned residents to stay clear of designated Olympic transport vehicles in the event of a traffic incident.

The loop, which began Jan. 4 and will fully open Jan. 23, according to state media, covers closed sections of Olympic venues and designated accommodations, amounting to a series of bubbles. Participants are required to travel between themselves using designated transportation.

Organizers have said they expect COVID-19 cases in the bubble, but added this week that they do not anticipate any changes to their protocols unless there are many cases in the bubble. loop. They declined to say if or how many cases of COVID-19 had been discovered among staff who had arrived so far ahead of the Games, which begin Feb. 4.

There will be no international spectators at the Beijing Games and organizers have yet to announce the number of local spectators who will attend.

China has largely succeeded in curbing the local spread of COVID-19 since it emerged in the central city of Wuhan two years ago, virtually closing its borders to travellers. Unlike Tokyo, where the Olympics were postponed for a year, there was no doubt that the Beijing Games would go ahead on schedule.

“Ultimately, I think it will be difficult for China to prevent widespread transmission of Omicron, but the Olympics themselves should be manageable as they are a low-key event that can be tightly controlled with tremendous resources applied to the task,” said Michael Baker, professor of public science. health at the University of Otago in Wellington.

Everyone in the loop must have a daily PCR test administered by staff. In Tokyo, the tests were largely self-administered. To leave their accommodation, attendees must first scan their pass and wait for a green code confirming they have had a negative test result in the past 24 hours.

Food delivery from restaurants outside the loop is not permitted. At the main media center, some of the food is prepared and served by robot chefs who assemble burgers and deliver food to tables from an overhead grill.

More than 2,000 international athletes are expected to come to China for the Games, along with 25,000 other stakeholders, organizers said, many of whom come from overseas. The organizers did not specify how many would be on the closed circuit.

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