Closed loop management for Beijing Winter Olympics participants confirmed in 2nd Playbook, necessary to fend risks amid Omicron spread
Published: Dec 15, 2021 01:00 AM
The photo taken on November 30, 2021 shows the National Speed Skating Oval in Beijing, China. Photo: VCG

The photo taken on November 30, 2021 shows the National Speed Skating Oval in Beijing, China. Photo: VCG

With the release of the second and final version of the Beijing 2022 Playbook on Monday night, the requirements for Beijing Winter Olympics participants from their departure to entering and leaving China such as vaccination and closed loop management have been confirmed. 

Chinese observers said that the strict COVID-19 rules are necessary given the more complicated situation posed by the Omicron variant and seasonal factors. Also, the precise and rigorous measures will be effective to fend off risks during the Winter Olympics. 

The second version of the Beijing 2022 Playbook was published with less than two months until the Olympic Winter Games and three months until the Paralympic Winter Games.

"After full consultation and extensive discussion, Beijing 2022, the IOC and the IPC jointly formulated the second edition of the Playbook on the basis of refining and perfecting the first edition of the Playbook," said Vice President and Secretary General of Beijing 2022 Han Zirong.

 "The measures outlined in the Playbook are formulated in accordance with the latest COVID-19 scientific research, expert opinions and the experience of other international competitions. We believe that these countermeasures can effectively reduce the risk of COVID-19," Han said. 

According to the playbook, guidelines for athletes, officials and other personnel differ in some details, but in general they have to meet similar requirements before departure, entering and leaving China. 

Before their travel, they have to take two COVID-19 (PCR) tests on two separate days within 96 hours of the departure. It will be mandatory for them to be fully vaccinated at least 14 days prior to departure, but athletes and officials may be granted an exception based on medical reasons. A booster shot for participants is strongly encouraged although not mandatory. 

They need to get two sets of QR codes required by the Chinese authorities for travel to China - the Green Health QR Code and the Customs Health Declaration QR Code - by uploading the relevant tests results and completing related forms. 

And they also need to download the "My 2022" smartphone application and log in to the Health Monitoring System (HMS) at least 14 days before departure for China and track their daily temperature in the HMS.

For flights to Beijing, it's mandatory that the first point of entry into the Chinese mainland must be Beijing Capital International Airport. 

Upon their arrival, they will have their temperature and health declaration checked in the aircraft. They will then take a COVID-19 (PCR) test, and after completing immigration procedures, they will then be transported to accommodation where they are required to wait until the test results come out. 

For those who are fully vaccinated, they will then enter the closed loop system, and those who are not fully vaccinated will need to quarantine in a dedicated facility for 21 days before entering the closed loop system.

Within the closed loop, all Games participants will be subject to daily health monitoring and testing and will be allowed to move between permitted destinations in dedicated transport. The closed loop system will apply during their entire stay in China.  

If their test results are positive, they will not be allowed to compete or continue their role, and will be asked to stay at the designated hospital for treatment or stay in an isolation facility. 

Close contacts will be able to compete or continue their role if they meet certain requirements including quarantine in a single room, dining alone and taking two tests per day. 

For their departure, it is recommended that athletes leave China within 48 hours of their last competition. They will travel to the Beijing Capital International Airport using the designated transport and the departure from China will be arranged using temporary and charter flights only. 

For athletes and officials, infringement of these rules may result in a warning, exclusion from the games, disqualification or financial sanctions, according to the playbook. 

Chinese observers said the second version of the playbook takes consideration of the development of overseas and domestic epidemic situations and is more meticulous than the first one which was issued in October. These measures can effectively deal with the risks from the new Omicron variant even if it results in a wider spread globally, they said. 

Ding Bocheng, who participated in organizing the Summer Games in 2004 and 2008 and is a member of the team for the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing, told the Global Times that China's epidemic prevention and control focuses on early steps, such as detailed and mandatory requirements for participants before leaving for Beijing. Along with the COVID-19 measures adopted in different venues, China's measures can effectively fend off the risks even if Omicron gets stronger or spreads wider globally. 

However, some Western media reports have said China's measures are too strict. Reports in NPR and the Wall Street Journal said China has adopted stricter COVID-19 rules than Tokyo during the summer Olympics. 

Japan did not impose strict rules for vaccination, and contact with local people outside the bubble was not strictly prohibited. 

Chinese health experts said China's COVID-19 rules are necessary for fending off the risks brought by mutated variants. 

Wang Guangfa, a respiratory expert at Peking University First Hospital, told the Global Times on Tuesday that half a year after the Tokyo Olympics, the Beijing Winter Olympics faces a different situation with the uncertainty from the new Omicron variant and a possible fast spread of the disease in the winter season. 

It's not known whether Omicron can result in more severe or mild cases but many scientists tend to believe it's a highly contagious variant like Delta, Wang said, noting that the risk from Delta still remains, and Omicron and the winter season double the risks faced by the Beijing Winter Olympics, indicating that a stricter COVID-19 policy is needed. 

When the Tokyo Olympics came to an end in August, the daily cases in several cities like Tokyo and Chiba Prefecture hit a record high. Wang said some scientists believed this was related to the Olympics, and China has to learn from it.