The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is staking its reputation on the success of an anti-virus ‘bubble’ never attempted before anywhere in the world. It is intent on paying any cost to see that the forthcoming Winter Olympics pass off Covid-free.
President Xi Jinping does not want a repeat of December 2019 when the world began to target China and holding it responsible for the global outbreak of the Coronavirus from its laboratory in Wuhan.
The CCP is willing to attract world criticism for its authoritarian political system that is causing pain and hardship to millions of Chinese citizens in order to ensure that not a single Covid case manages to pierce the ‘bubble’ and enter the Olympic City in Beijing.
The capital city is already a ghost town with security and health officials the only people moving around. Miles of metal fences and guard posts have turned the city into a metal labyrinth which can be negotiated only with an official Covid-safe pass that is next to impossible to obtain for the common man.
Thousands of people – players, coaches, judges, officials, media and support staff – are trickling into Beijing at a time when the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the Coronavirus is raging in large swathes of the country including some areas in Beijing’s outskirts.
The CCP is directly supervising the Olympic Bubble operations. The entire Games region is being sealed from inside. The officials call it the “closed loop system”, describing the bubble that cuts off the sports area from the rest of Beijing.
The closest comparison to the Beijing ‘bubble’ is the one developed by the National Basketball Association of the United States to keep players and officials safe during the final stages of the 2019-20 season inside Orlando’s Disney World.
But that bubble was for 350 players from 22 teams. The Beijing ‘bubble’ is unimaginably massive the world has never seen. Around 11,000 people from around the world will be staying inside the ‘bubble’ during the duration of the games, moving through three competition zones over 100 miles apart. That is how big the ‘bubble’ is.
Strict enforcement, close to a million manpower, precise planning, exhaustive surveillance – these are some of the ingredients that have put the ‘bubbler’ in place and will secure it till the end of the Games. Those Chinese workers who have already entered the ‘bubble’ will not leave it for at least a month. They are already feeling the pressure as Omicron vases have already been detected among the 2,000-odd arrivals in Beijing till the second week of January.
The ‘closed loop’ system simply means this: a Games participant, from arrival till final check out, will not make any contact with the general Chinese population. The participant will not even see an ordinary Chinese citizen during this period. The only interaction will be with people who are also in the ‘closed loop’.
Several stadia, multiple conference centers and over 70 hotels are part of the ‘bubble’. It has its own transportation system. Over 4,000 vehicles will be on duty during the Games moving the people from place to place.
CNN reports in detail: “Instead of one giant Olympic bubble, the system is formed by a network of interconnected mini-bubbles. They are concentrated in three zones: downtown Beijing, where the ice competitions and opening and closing ceremonies will be held; the suburban Yanqing district, a site for alpine skiing and sliding; and Zhangjiakou, a city in neighboring Hebei province that will host Nordic skiing and the bulk of freestyle skiing and snowboard events.”
The three zones are “linked by high-speed train and highways”. Such are the arrangements that in order to maintain the separation, “even the train cars are divided, and the closed-loop buses are given specially marked lanes”.
To ensure against the breaching of the ‘bubble’, the citizens of Beijing have been warned not to come close to any ‘bubble’ inmate. They are being repeatedly told not to offer any kind of help to the participants in case an Olympic vehicle is involved in a crash.
Select Chinese will be given tickets to watch the Games. But the price they pay is in the form of being inside the ‘bubble’ for the duration of the Games.
The entry point for the ‘bubble’ is covered in a security blanket. The pre-condition for entering the ‘bubble’ is double vaccination, a negative Covid report, and a quarantine.
Anyone entering the bubble must be fully vaccinated, or face an additional 21-day quarantine upon arrival in Beijing before allowed into the bubble. They are to limit their interactions with others in the ‘bubble’ to the minimum lest they catch Covid. They will all have an app on their phone that records their body temperature and their answers to a daily set of health questions.
The people, once inside the ‘bubble’, will wear masks always and get tested for Covid every day. Participants who test positive “will be immediately removed from the Games”. Those who are symptomatic will be sent to a designated hospital for treatment, while asymptomatic cases will be taken to an isolation facility, the media has reported. The conditions for such people to return to the ’bubble’ are so tough, they are most likely to miss the Games.
Thousands of staff and volunteers will wear armpit digital thermometers that will raise an alarm if the temperature exceeds 37.3 degrees. Robots, not human beings, will man the ‘smart canteen’ at the main media center. They will make “Chinese and Western dishes and cocktails behind glass screens, while meals are delivered from the ceiling by automated robot arms”.
The million-dollar question nobody wants the authorities to hear being asked is: Will the ‘bubble’ work? Everybody dreads answering, though all know there will be some cases given the high transmissibility of Omicron.
But the fate of millions of Chinese who are caught in a never-ending cycle of testing and lockdown syndrome can only be imagined. No news about the plight of the citizens is allowed to come out of the lockdown zones other than informed speculation that the people face food shortages, are forced to stand in testing queues in snowing and chilly weather for hours, losing out on wages, and unable to communicate with their family members. All to ensure that not a single Covid case disturbs the Games and embarrasses the leadership before the world.