Three weeks out from the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Winter Games, no decision has been made yet on whether domestic spectators will be allowed at the venues, the International Olympic Committee said on Wednesday. But IOC officials said the “closed loop” system of testing and keeping Olympic athletes and officials isolated from the Chinese population appears to be off to a strong start.
The question of spectators is one of the last unknowns for the Games that will begin February 4 in Beijing. All spectators were banned from the Olympic Summer Games in Tokyo and foreign spectators have already been ruled out for Beijing. But no final decision has been made yet on what might happen with domestic spectators, said Pierre Ducrey, the Olympic Games operations director, who deferred the question to the Beijing Organizing Committee during a briefing covering logistics on the ground in China.
Regardless of how the spectator issue gets resolved, there will be significant differences in protocols for athletes, coaches, Olympic officials and media that will be traveling to Beijing compared to their experience in Tokyo this past summer, where they also faced limits designed to counteract the threat of COVID-19. Olympic stakeholders in Beijing will be tested every day during their stay, with some clarity provided Wednesday on what happens should they test positive. In Tokyo, only athletes and certain officials were tested daily, while others were on a modified testing schedule dependent on how close they had contact with athletes. All participants coming to Beijing also must be vaccinated, something that was merely a recommendation for participants in Tokyo.
The so-called “closed loop” system being implemented by the IOC and the Beijing Organizing Committee is also being designed to isolate Olympic participants from the Chinese population, where recent outbreaks have caused several major cities to go into lockdown. Ducrey said the IOC is not concerned about any transmission from the general public into the Olympic zone, or the other way around, based on the strict limits that will be placed on how Olympic visitors will be allowed to move about the city.
“When it comes to outbreaks in China and the closed-loop approach, it is called a closed loop for that very reason” he said. “There will be no contact between those outside the loop and inside the loop. It has been built to help protect the inside from the outside and the outside from the inside. There is no concern from this perspective that this could influence the Games.”
“There will be no contact between those outside the loop and inside the loop. It has been built to help protect the inside from the outside and the outside from the inside.”
—Pierre Ducrey, IOC
Nonetheless, the IOC has developed specific rules for anyone within the loop who does test positive on the daily PCR tests that will be administered in the Athlete’s Village or at approved hotels for other Olympic participants. People who test positive but are asymptomatic will be sent to a designated hotel to be monitored for symptoms. If after three days of isolation they test negative on two consecutive days, they will be allowed to return to the closed loop. Ducrey said a 3- or 4-star hotel will be designated for those purposes with those isolated being granted access to Wi-Fi and meals, as well as deliveries from other members of their team. “You could be out as quickly as you produce two negative tests,” he said.
Anyone who is symptomatic will be sent to a hospital or other medical facility where they will need to stay until their symptoms improve and they also receive negative tests for two consecutive days. If someone continues to test positive for two weeks, there will be a medical panel that will review their situation before determining the next steps or decide whether those individuals can eventually return to the closed-loop system.
Those deemed close contacts during the course of the Games will not have to quarantine themselves but will be subject to two daily PCR tests for seven days in an effort to monitor their status.
Meanwhile, the IOC is reporting that the process upon arrival at the airport in Beijing has been smooth for participants, an improvement over what was in some cases up to 10 hours of testing and waiting for participants in Tokyo. The Beijing Organizing Committee has said that those arriving can expect to be processed in under six hours, although Ducrey said some people are moving their way through in about an hour. Those arriving are subject to a PCR test upon arrival and sent straight to their designated hotel or the Athletes’ Village. They cannot leave those accommodations until their negative results are returned. “The arrival and departure process is working extremely well,” Ducrey said.