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Police escorts, hazmat suits - welcome to Beijing's Olympic bubble

Staff Reporter Other Sports 2022-01-14, 12:05am

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BEIJING - China is sealing the Beijing Olympics inside an impenetrable giant bubble cocooning thousands of people and

stretching nearly 200 kilometres (120 miles) in an effort to thwart the
coronavirus.

     AFP takes you inside the bubble for the February 4-20 Winter Games:

     What is the 'closed loop'?

    China, where the virus emerged towards the end of 2019, hopes to deliver
a "simple, safe and splendid" Games in keeping with the country's strict
zero-Covid strategy.

     To limit the spread of infection, athletes, support staff, volunteers
and media will be in a so-called "closed loop" -- aka the bubble -- for the
whole Games.

     Rather than sealing off one huge area of the capital, the bubble will in
reality be numerous mini bubbles, such as a cordoned-off hotel on a street
used by everyday Beijingers.

     For those flying into China they will be in the closed loop from the
moment that they land in the Chinese capital to the time they fly out. The
bubble came into operation last week.

     Unlike last summer's pandemic-delayed Tokyo Games, where for example
media were able to leave the bubble after two weeks and head out into public,
nobody will be able to leave the "closed loop" during the Games.

     That includes for sleeping, eating and travel between the three Games
areas, which are as far as 180 kilometres apart.

     AFP staff were transported between the airport and their hotel -- having
had their first Covid test -- in special buses escorted by police cars.

     Staff at the airport wore hazmat suits with masks and visors.

     How many people are inside?

     There are no firm numbers. However, there will be about 3,000 athletes
and Chinese state media estimates 10,000 people from the media will be at the
Games.

     There will also an army of staff powering the Olympic sites, from
translators to cleaners, hotel staff and drivers.

     There will be 19,000 volunteers, although not all will be in the bubble.

     There are 72 hotels inside and over 4,000 designated vehicles to
transport participants, organisers say.

     What is life like?

     Everyone inside the bubble must be fully vaccinated or do 21 days'
quarantine before going inside. Organisers have stopped short of insisting on
boosters.

     There will be daily virus tests and everybody must wear a high-spec mask
at all times.

     There will be hotels, restaurants, convenience stores and petrol
stations in the bubble.

     A petrol station worker said in a promotional article by state oil firm
PetroChina that after work they "play ball or mahjong together, photograph
ski pistes and sometimes have snowball fights".

     This week Beijing police warned motorists not to help if a Games vehicle
is involved in an accident to avoid the bubble being breached.

     Even rubbish from the bubble will be treated separately from other
public waste.

     How long is it for?

     Some people will spend several months locked away from the outside
world.

     On a social media forum for the Games, volunteers wrote that they had to
enter the bubble in mid-January.

     Some will be in there until after the Paralympics, which finish on March
13.

     Even then they are not free. Residents of China must complete a 21-day
quarantine upon leaving the bubble, according to a government virus
prevention handbook.

     One complained that quarantine after leaving the bubble made them "even
more depressed" and local staff will spend Lunar New Year -- the most
important holiday in China -- away from family.

     One convenience store worker in Zhangjiakou, the resort city outside
Beijing that will host several outdoor events, told AFP she had lived onsite since November.BSS/AFP