Having been largely sealed off from the world for two years, Beijing is now welcoming the arrival of thousands of foreign Olympians, officials, journalists and support staff — including from countries where the highly transmissible Omicron variant is raging.
Whether Chinese authorities can keep the Games Covid-safe is the ultimate test of China’s zero-Covid strategy.
To limit the spread, it is sealing the entire Games inside what authorities have called a “closed loop system” — a bubble completely cut off from the rest of the city.
Here’s how it works: The Beijing bubble is welcoming an estimated 11,000 people from around the world — and they will be shuttling through three competition zones up to 111 miles (180 kilometers) apart.
Securing the bubble will require massive manpower, meticulous planning, pervasive surveillance and rigorous government enforcement.
The separation: Participants will be confined to the “closed loop” and they will compete, work, eat and sleep without making any contact with the wider Chinese population.
The “closed loop” consists of a series of stadiums, conference centers and more than 70 hotels, with those in downtown Beijing fenced off and closely guarded by police; it even has its own transportation system, with 4,000 vehicles dedicated to moving participants from place to place.
The three zones are linked by high-speed train and highways. To maintain the separation, even the train cars are divided, and the closed-loop buses are given specially marked lanes. Drivers not part of the Olympics who cross into these lanes will be fined.
Athletes, staff and volunteers inside the closed loop will also be separated from spectators, who have their own transport and entrance to the events.
Inside the bubble: Anyone entering the bubble must be fully vaccinated, or face an additional 21-day quarantine upon arrival in Beijing before being allowed in.
They must also use an app to upload their body temperature and answer questions about their health status every day.
Participants will be tested for Covid every day and must wear face masks at all times.