China is like a country in quarantine as the countdown begins for the Winter Olympics 2022 next February amid the communist party’s eagerness to ensure that not even a stray case of coronavirus is reported in Beijing when the games are in progress.
The authorities are willing, and doing, everything that is required to keep the case load to remain at zero. Zero local transmissions, is the official policy now being implemented allegedly at the cost of people’s freedom and violation of rights.
The Winter Games are already controversial because of several countries led by the United States announcing a diplomatic boycott and the Chinese government is in no mood to give the virus any chance to tarnish its image further.
Despite the strict safety protocols, some regions in China are reporting fresh cases daily. Reuters said 1,308 domestically transmitted infections with confirmed symptoms were reported in the mainland between October 17 and November 14.
The north-eastern city of Dalian is frustrating the authorities, locked as it is in a long struggle with the virus. Reuters reported that since Dalian’s first local symptomatic patients from the latest outbreak was reported on November 4, “the city of 7.5 million people has detected an average of about 24 new local cases a day, more than any other Chinese city”.
Though no Covid-related death has been reported in China since January, authorities are enforcing even more stringent measures to check the virus spread. Even secondary and tertiary contacts with patients and their contacts are being quarantined for weeks.
Inner Mongolia, for instance, has been under a complete lockdown for nearly two months, trapping 10,000 tourists. Shanghai Disneyland was shut down after one positive patient visited it. Over 30,000 visitors present at that time were forced to undergo testing. After some crew were reported positive, high-speed trains were stopped midway.
Animal rights violations were reported from several Chinese cities as municipal authorities allegedly killed pets while disinfecting homes while the owners were in quarantine.
The Chinese people in some regions, like in Ruili and Xinjiang, have expressed anger and discontent over the excessive measures. A CNN report said despite the strict monitoring, “cases have been detected over the past week in the country’s largest cities, from Beijing and Shanghai to Guangzhou”.
The authorities are ensuring that Beijing is isolated from the rest of the country during the period of the Winter Games to ensure that the virus does not enter the capital city.
The government has now put in place a strict regimen for officials and athletes attending the Winter Olympics between February 4 and 20 next year. Several sporting championships have either been cancelled or are being played behind closed doors.
For the Games, the government has come up with a “closed loop” policy. No spectators from outside China will be allowed to attend the Games, though efforts are on to have some people in attendance for the cameras.
Seventeen domestic and foreign carriers will be providing the chartered flights. Every day, there will be 15 inbound flights from a dozen hubs world-wide, along with 13 outbound flights. The authorities have already confirmed the flight plans and released the schedules to the athletes.
All participants and attendees should be fully vaccinated at least two weeks before their arrival in Beijing. They have to take two nucleic acid tests within 96 hours of boarding their flights and receive a no-risk code. They will undergo a test the moment they land in Beijing.
They will then be taken by official transport to the Games Village. The village is a “closed-loop bubble” for the period of the Games. No unauthorised person can enter the bubble. Officials have made it clear that the bubbles “will be strictly separated from the rest of China” and those entering them will remain there for their entire stay.
The idea is to completely isolate every person in the Village from the country’s population to prevent an outbreak. Those violating the rules will be punished, including immediate disqualification from the Games and expulsion from the country.
The Chinese Communist Party has come out with a policy narrative for the Games. It is treating the Games as a matter of “national pride”. It is also treating its ability to prevent the outbreak of even a single case of Coronavirus in Beijing during the Games as a matter of “national pride”.
Having experienced the ignominy of near-global isolation after several countries blamed China for the virus outbreak last year, the authorities have done away with niceties and courtesies to ensure the virus is controlled.
President Xi Jinping is taking great pride in the “success” of the Chinese pandemic response model as well as the “superiority” of the country’s political system to contain the pandemic as swiftly as possible. China wants nothing to happen that will dent the image it has so carefully nurtured and popularised.
With rival Japan having successfully organised the Summer Olympics barely six months ago, the communist government will see any untoward incident during the Winter Games as a personal failure.
The government went into shock last month when three foreign athletes, who arrived in China early to train, tested positive. Two of them are asymptomatic but all three have been quarantined, strictly isolated from others. The government is conducting tests on them almost daily.