In Beijing’s Olympic bubble: police escorts, daily COVID-19 tests, robot chefs

Security staff stand guard inside a closed loop area designed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China January 13, 2022. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

BEIJING, Jan 13 (Reuters) – In a hived-off section of the Beijing airport, arrivals for next month’s Winter Olympics are met by staff in white protective suits and undergo COVID-19 tests and swabs of luggage before being whisked in police-escorted buses to fenced-off hotels.

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

Once inside, people cannot leave until they either depart the country or complete several weeks of quarantine. This includes about 20,000 Chinese volunteers and staff at the venues who will enter the loop.

Overseas 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 had police escorts to their hotel.

Authorities are determined to create a physical barrier between participants and the general population. On Sunday, Beijing officials warned locals to stay away from designated Olympic transport vehicles in the event of a traffic incident.

The loop, which began on Jan. 4 and will open fully by Jan. 23, according to state media, covers sealed-off sections of Olympic venues and designated accommodation, amounting to a series of bubbles. Participants are required to move between them using designated transport.

Organisers have said they expect COVID-19 cases in the bubble, but added on Tuesday they don’t plan any changes to their protocols unless there are many cases inside the loop. They declined to say whether or how many COVID-19 cases had been found among personnel who had arrived thus far ahead of the Games, which start on Feb. 4.

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