The 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games are just one week away, yet the fast-spreading Omicron variant has hit Beijing amid emerging COVID-19 clusters across the country.
The surge in cases has pressured the regime to employ the most stringent health protocols to keep the virus at bay, leading many to believe this will be the most unpleasant sporting event in Olympic history.
The Feb. 4-20 event will be followed by the Winter Paralympics from March 4-13 which will result in a large number of non-Chinese–from athletes to media personnel—arriving in Beijing for the event.
Nine of the 106 cases were arrivals testing positive at Beijing airport.
Tianjin TestingTo the communist regime, the virus is viewed as a threat to their hosting of the Games and they have gone to extremes to check its spread.
On Jan. 9, the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin began a new round of testing of its 14 million residents to contain Omicron.
The city authorities ordered a half-day off for employees at companies and other institutions and required them to keep activities static and comply with its new round of mass testing. The megacity is less than a two-hour drive from Beijing.
Later that day, Beijing’s Municipal Health Commission confirmed another imported Omicron case.
Given that the Chinese regime is known to grossly underreport its virus numbers, the official figure likely doesn’t reflect the true total.
Over 20 million Chinese residents in at least five cities are under lockdown.
Closed-Loop SystemThe Winter Games will operate under a “closed-loop” management system, also referred to as the “Olympic Bubble.” Athletes arriving in China will be required to be fully vaccinated or be forced to spend their first 21 days in solitary quarantine.
The closed-loop system intends to completely isolate everyone involved in the event from the rest of China, attempting to prevent any possible outbreaks. This system will include dedicated transport, housing, and training facilities.
Participants will be confined to the “closed-loop” from the moment they touch down in Beijing to the time they leave. They also must present two negative tests before arrival, take tests daily and submit health reports to the authorities using a mobile app. Throughout their stay, they will compete, work, eat and sleep without making any contact with the broader Chinese population.
The closed-loop consists of a series of stadiums, conference centers, approximately 72 hotels, and its own transportation system with 4,000 vehicles dedicated to moving participants from place to place within the loop. Those in downtown Beijing are fenced off and closely guarded by police.
Instead of one giant Olympic bubble, the system is a network of interconnected mini-bubbles concentrated in three zones: downtown Beijing, where the ice competitions and opening and closing ceremonies will take place; Zhangjiakou, a city in neighboring Hebei province that will host Nordic skiing and the bulk of freestyle skiing and snowboard events; and Beijing’s suburban Yanqing district, a site for alpine skiing and sliding.
An estimated 3,000 athletes and 10,000 media personnel from around the world will be enclosed in the bubble, according to Chinese state-run media. There is also a large number of support staff for the venues, including translators, cleaning and hotel staff, drivers, and about 19,000 volunteers, although not all volunteers will be in the closed-loop.
The Effectiveness of Beijing’s ‘Olympic Bubble’Applying the closed-loop system to the Winter Games is arguably one of Beijing’s most ambitious undertakings. The stringent prevention and control measures present the ultimate test to the Chinese Communist Party's “zero-COVID strategy.”
“I think it’s impossible,” Chen Weijian, editor-in-chief of Beijing Spring, a monthly magazine of the Chinese democracy movements, told The Epoch Times.
“I am citing the CCP’s own statement: A [week] ago, the Chinese authorities reported an Omicron-positive case in [Beijing’s] Haidian District. The infected person has not traveled outside of Beijing. Thus, the authorities claimed that the virus came from a Canadian parcel," Chen said.
“There are [thousands of] athletes from around the world, each bringing their own luggage and equipment. Using Beijing’s logic, the Omicron infections would likely explode during the Winter Games.”
Chen also questioned the authorities’ claim on the real cause of infection.
“Beijing’s postal service also said that they checked all its postal workers related to the parcel and found no infection. By logic, if the parcel recipient were infected, the postal workers exposed to the parcel would’ve also been infected,” Chen added.
A former Chinese national team swimmer and Olympic silver medalist, Huang Xiaomin, also told The Epoch Times that she doubts that Beijing will be able to contain the Omicron variant.
International ConcernsWinter Games participants worldwide are concerned about the CCP’s extreme—if not unreasonable—COVID measures.
Shoemaker told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) that if the COC believes the athletes’ safety is compromised, it will not hesitate to pull the plug on sending a team to Beijing as it did in March 2020 to the Tokyo Summer Olympics. The Tokyo Games were later delayed for one year.
In December 2021, the National Hockey League (NHL) said it would not send players to the Winter Games’ men’s ice hockey tournament, citing the pandemic’s “profound disruption” to its schedule.
Chinese Olympic medalist Huang told The Epoch Times that the CCP would most likely proceed with the Winter Games at any cost, even if the pandemic were to worsen.
“The CCP has been preparing for [the Olympics] for more than seven years. It will stop at nothing to make it happen on time. The safety of the athletes or the international pressure for delaying [the Games] is among the least of its concerns,” Huang added.
Beijing’s Reputation At StakeDespite the stringent lockdown measures in Xi’an, Tianjin, and other infected cities, in early January, CCP officials said it so far has no plans to lock down Beijing or to change either the Olympics schedule or virus-control measures in response to Omicron.
This announcement came to the surprise of many local authorities in Beijing as it goes against the CCP’s “zero-tolerance approach” towards the virus.
For the Chinese government, more appears at stake. The Olympics is not only an opportunity to showcase China’s athletic achievements but also to validate its authoritarian system to the world.
Suppose Beijing can pull off this massive-scale sporting event without reporting a major outbreak. It could claim that its top-down authoritarian system is better than Western democracies, which have struggled to contain outbreaks.
Punishment If Foreign Athletes ProtestAn official with China’s Olympics organizing committee has cautioned foreign athletes against speaking out during next month’s Winter Olympics, warning that any behavior that violates Chinese regulations could potentially get them ejected from the Games.
“Any expression that is in line with the Olympic spirit I’m sure will be protected, and anything and any behavior or speeches that is against the Olympic spirit, especially against Chinese laws and regulations, are also subject to certain punishment,” said Yang Shu, deputy director-general of Beijing 2022’s international relations department.
Many forms of speech are suppressed under highly restrictive laws imposed by the CCP, making it a challenge for ordinary citizens to express themselves freely both online and offline. Dissidents, rights lawyers, citizen journalists, and petitioners who criticize the regime often face detention and prosecution under broadly-defined charges, such as “provoking trouble” and “inciting subversion.”
Yang made the remarks during a Jan. 19 virtual briefing hosted by the Chinese embassy in Washington, when asked about athletes speaking out on human rights issues during the Olympics, slated to begin on Feb. 4.
He suggested canceling the athletes’ accreditation as a possible form of punishment, citing the guidelines in the Olympic organizers’ playbook.
Some activists have been urging Olympians to refrain from criticizing China while in Beijing for the sake of their own safety.
“We know the human rights record and the allowance of freedom of expression in China, so there’s really not much protection,” said Rob Koehler, the director-general of the Global Athlete group, at a Jan. 18 forum by rights advocacy group Human Rights Watch.
Security Risk, Potential Communication LockdownA data security expert has warned that people traveling to China for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, including athletes, government dignitaries, and corporate executives, are all at risk of personal data exposure and being surveilled by the Chinese regime.
The risk centers around a state-controlled smartphone app called “MY2022” that the regime in Beijing demands that international and local attendees use to come to the Games. The app’s vulnerabilities were recently exposed by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, which described in its analysis that the app has a “devastating” security flaw, particularly in the amount of user information the app’s developer can collect.
The app, which primarily serves as a tool to track users’ COVID-19 health status, also features an instant messaging function and provides information about the Games, as well as tips on local food and beverage, accommodations, and transportation. The app is available in both iOS and Android versions.
Citizen Lab, which published its findings regarding the app on Jan. 18, said that user information, including passport details, travel history, and phone numbers, could be compromised, given that the app can be “deceived into connecting to a malicious host while believing it is a trusted host.”
The laboratory also found that the app contains a blacklist for keywords, including “Tiananmen Massacre,” “Tibet Freedom,” and “Falun Gong,” as well as Chinese terms for The Epoch Times and its sister outlet NTD. The Chinese regime blocks The Epoch Times and its affiliated media because of their longstanding reporting on issues critical of the communist regime, such as human rights violations.
MY2022’s developer, Beijing Financial Holdings Group Co. Ltd, as shown on the Apple App Store download page, is tied to the CCP.
Chen, the editor-in-chief of Beijing Spring, told The Epoch Times that the CCP would almost definitely monitor the mobile devices of foreign staff and athletes, preventing sensitive information or news from being sent out if any were to happen or discovered during the Games.
“For example, if a massive outbreak were to occur during the Winter Games, it would be difficult for the athletes to get the information out until the event concludes,” he said.
Japan’s Olympic Success Without Stringent RulesAlthough not perfect, the Tokyo Games Last summer was a success recognized by the international community. Despite recording more than 400 infections in its Olympic bubble, most participants felt safe and unconstrained.
Japan was willing to delay its long-planned massive sporting event by a year over the health and safety concerns of staff and athletes worldwide.
In 2021, Japan adopted an uncompromising—yet humane—health protocol for all participants.
Participants were not required to be vaccinated or quarantined. Instead, they were asked to stay in Olympic-related venues as much as possible. They had many opportunities to interact with the wider Japanese population, such as picking up takeaway food at local restaurants or convenience stores.
A Sporting Event Without FreedomUnlike Japan, China is pursuing a far more stringent health protocol, going to great lengths to eliminate the risk of an outbreak, all to meet its long-held “zero-COVID” standard.
Beijing’s virus-control measures confine all participants—domestic and abroad—inside the bubble, allowing minimal freedom within the confined zones.
To further prevent the possible infections from spreading outside the bubble, Beijing’s traffic authorities urged its residents to stay away from any collisions involving vehicles from the closed-loop bubble, saying that a special unit of ambulances would respond to such accidents.
Tickets will only be distributed to a selected group of spectators, according to an announcement posted on the organizing committee’s website. Those spectators will need to “strictly abide by” authorities’ virus curbs to “help create an absolutely safe environment for the athletes,” the organizers said, adding that they could only clap—not cheer—when watching the games.
Kane Zhang contributed to this article.