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Playbook for Athletes, Beijing 2022

Saturday, Feb. 5, 2022

At a time when Iowa and Denmark have decided that COVID restrictions are no longer necessary, we’ve probably picked the right place to have the Winter Olympics.

Remember when the Tokyo Summer Olympics were postponed from July of 2020 to July of 2021? Even with a year’s delay, there was much criticism and concern that it was too soon. Japan was in its fourth state of emergency. Delta was surging around the world. Vaccines were not widely available. There was no such thing as boosters. Gloomy scenarios predicted that athletes from all over the world would exchange viruses and produce newer stronger variants. In retrospect, however, it appears that the Tokyo Olympic bubble worked well.

That was Delta. Now we have Omicron, the most contagious variant yet, and the Winter Olympics are in China, which has a strict zero-tolerance policy for COVID. I don’t hear anyone complaining. The new playbook prescribes a closed loop protocol. Everyone entering Beijing for the Olympics will stay in closed Olympic areas for housing and competition and not mix with the general population at all during their stay. The local residents they DO see, white-suited and masked, are the 60,000 local staff and volunteers who take care of food, housing, security, and other support duties and they will live in the loop until the games are over. Then they will be required to quarantine for three weeks before they resume their normal lives in China.

The Tokyo and Beijing playbooks were published only six months apart — in July 2021 and December 2021. Here’s a brief comparison:

  1. Athletes at both summer and winter games were assigned to a Covid Liaison Officer (CLO) who would be their go-to or hear-from person for anything to do with Covid.
  2. Daily testing: In Japan, the athlete would collect a saliva sample under the supervision of their CLO, an assistant, or “one of your peers.” In China, a throat swab sample will be collected by medical personnel at specified collected sites.
  3. Vaccinations: In Japan (July-August of 2021), vaccines are on page 67. The IOC coordinated vaccination efforts with the home countries and expected that 80% of the athletes would be vaccinated before the games. Vaccines were considered “an extra tool” and were not required for participation. In China (February of 2022) vaccines are up front (pages 6-7) and mandatory with specific exceptions. Unvaccinated athletes have to come early and quarantine for three weeks.
  4. Transportation: In Japan athletes were asked to use dedicated Games vehicles, but there were provisions for options such as chartered taxis or bullet trains if needed for remote locations. In China, athletes use dedicated transport, period. As one athlete stated in a video this week, you are not allowed to open the window, and absolutely no bathroom stops are permitted.
Olympic Village Tour: Beijing 20221’s Yanqing Olympic Village

For an eyewitness comparison by an athlete who was at the Tokyo Olympics and is now competing in Beijing, I liked the video above by Nathan Ikon Crumpton. Some of the points that struck me: When your chartered flight lands in Tokyo, you are met by white-suited masked attendants and walk through dedicated lanes at the airport, where you have a throat swab and deep-nasal swab PCR test. You wait for the results in your hotel room before completing registration. All the staff at the Olympic Village were masked and suited up, and although they appeared to be friendly and helpful, you never see their faces.

Journalists go through the same kinds of protocols and are accommodated separately in the Olympic Village. There is a separate playbook for broadcasters, marketing, and support staff.

Playbook for non-athletes, Beijing, 2022

The closed loop strategy looks very safe. Even a contagious bug like Omicron would have a hard time getting through it. But the whole on-site experience looks like my worst nightmare, starting with the deep-nasal swabs and the masked-and-suited welcome committee, all the way to the threat of isolation limbo if you test positive.

Denmark and Iowa are looking better all the time.

Today’s Notable Headlines

“Iowa announces upcoming end to COVID-19 as a public health emergency,” The Hill, Feb. 3, 2022. https://thehill.com/homenews/state-watch/592777-iowa-announces-upcoming-end-to-covid-19-as-a-public-health-emergency

“Denmark becomes first EU country to lift all Covid-19 restrictions,” CNN, Feb. 1, 2022. https://www.cnn.com/2022/02/01/europe/denmark-lifts-covid-restrictions-intl/index.html

“Beijing Olympic bubble takes virus control measures to new level,” Kyodo News, Feb. 3, 2022. https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2022/02/f8b80299f687-beijing-olympic-bubble-takes-virus-control-measures-to-new-level.html

“A New Study On COVID-19 Cases at the Tokyo Olympics Has Lessons for the Beijing Games,” Time, Feb. 4, 2022. https://time.com/6145013/olympics-covid-19-tokyo-beijing/

Tour by Nathan Ikon Crumpton, competing in skeleton (sledding) for American Samoa (see link to YouTube above).

Additional Resources

Beijing 2022 Playbooks, December 2021 https://olympics.com/ioc/beijing-2022-playbooks

The Playbook for Athletes and Officials, Tokyo, June 2021, Version 3, https://stillmed.olympics.com/media/Documents/Olympic-Games/Tokyo-2020/Playbooks/The-Playbook-Athletes-and-Officials-V3.pdf

Why am I doing this?

The coronavirus pandemic will be written on our memories just as the 1918 Flu Pandemic, the Great Depression, or the Cold War left their mark on past generations. Since March 11, 2020, this blog has examined the modern pandemic experience both in the media and in everyday life, drawing on my experience as a medical technologist, a historian, and an ordinary person living through an extraordinary world crisis.

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