Sports TravelOrganisers remain confident in 'closed loop' plan with limited fans and extreme Covid-19 rules, despite rising omicron concerns.

Is Beijing’s Olympic “bubble” tight enough?

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With the Olympics coming up and a recent discovery of the omicron variant, local authorities are on high alert as China has zero intention of lockdown or adjusting its 'closed loop' plan.
With the Olympics coming up and a recent discovery of the omicron variant, local authorities are on high alert as China has zero intention of lockdown or adjusting its 'closed loop' plan. Photo Credit: Twitter/Beijing 2022

As Beijing gears up to welcome thousands of athletes and teams for the Winter Olympics from 4 February, a recent first — and ongoing — detection of the Omicron variant on 16 January begs the question: Is the Olympic “bubble” tight enough?

This is with millions more Chinese expected to travel for the week-long Spring Festival and Chinese New Year end this month.

As of 19 January, infected cases have been spotted in the Chaoyang, Fangshan, Fengtai and Haidian districts in China's capital. Low figures compared to the surging numbers globally, but authorities are already on high alert.

This is since China has zero intention of lockdown or adjusting its 'closed loop' plan, which physically separates Games participants from the local population. They have indicated instead to monitor closely for new virus clusters.

"The overall situation remains under control,” said Huang Chun, from the Beijing Organising Committee for the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, in a SCMP report.

'Under control' in this context refers to the government's call for residents to avoid interacting with Olympic-related personnel or even vehicles; avoid "unnecessary travel" during the holidays; and proof of negative test results for domestic travellers entering Beijing.

On the Games site, there will be mandatory routine testing for participants; set up of hospital and isolation units; 50 ambulances on standby in surrounding Games precinct, banning overseas spectators and even shouting; while nothing — not even trash — will be allowed to leave the Olympics bubble until the Games end.

It is still unclear if domestic audiences are allowed to watch live, although the International Olympics Committee announced on 17 January that they would "invite groups of spectators to be present on site during the Games...[who would] strictly abide by the Covid-19 countermeasures before, during and after each event so as to help create an absolutely safe environment for the athletes".

International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Director Christophe Dubi declined to answer if there's a 'Plan B', because "having seen the plan in action now, every day out there in the venues … it will not be breached," he said in a SCMP report.

Protocols will only be adjusted in the event of a large-scale outbreak, according to Huang.

The Games will be held in three zones across Beijing, the city of Zhangjiakou and the district of Yanqing between 4 and 20 February 2022, and the Paralympic Winter Games will be held from 4 until 13 March 2022.

Meanwhile, Singapore Airlines will step up as a connecting hub for the Winter Olympics, operating daily chartered flights for Singaporean and overseas athletes and teams from 21 January until 16 March in what Singapore's Minister for Transport S. Iswaran calls a "good opportunity" to enhance people-to-people exchanges.

Not all international diplomats have found common ground though, where the US, Australia, UK, Canada, Belgium, Denmark, New Zealand, Sweden and others will not be sending an official representation to the Winter Olympics.

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