Early look at Winter Olympics venue: A taste of how China intends to host the Games during pandemic

Makeshift fences can be seen all over Zhangjiakou. ST PHOTO: ELIZABETH LAW
A view of the National Ski Jumping Centre (background) in Zhangjiakou, Hebei province. PHOTO: REUTERS

Makeshift fences are all over Zhangjiakou, one of the three venues that will host the Winter Olympics in China in just over two months.

But organisers said construction was "90 per cent complete" for the games, with preparations in their final stage. The fences were added because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Straits Times visited Zhangjiakou, during a recent test event for Ski Cross and Snowboarding Cross, to get a sense of how organisers intend to balance the very open nature of an olympics with China's ongoing zero-Covid strategy.

While China still largely has its borders closed to foreign visitors, organisers say spectators from within the country will be allowed, making Beijing 2022 "more open" than the Tokyo edition of the Summer Games - where most of the events took place in empty arenas without spectators.

Ms Annabelle Tuan, media operations manager at the Zhangjiakou site told reporters that while foreign spectators are unlikely to be allowed in, "if you are already in China, you're welcome".

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Still, the series of Covid measures controlling who can enter Zhangjiakou mean foreigners already in China could still struggle to attend the games.

All entering the ski resort of where the games are to take place, part of the Hebei province, were made to use a province-specific health code for their contact tracing app. But that option does not support those travelling on passports, essentially meaning all foreigners.

During the Winter Games, the entire area will be part of a Covid-free bubble. And once inside the bubble, restrictions seem a little bit more relaxed.

At the train station, all travellers were herded in a close group towards checkpoints where local security officials checked their health codes and travel documents.

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Within the larger games bubble, there will be several smaller bubbles separating athletes, spectators and media. Movement will also be limited so attendees will either only be allowed to travel within their designated zones and movement between accommodation and venues can only be on designated vehicles.

On the slopes, media and spectators will be kept separate from the competitors, who are in their own separate bubble with different facilities and access routes. Fences and barricades have been set up to ensure no cross-contamination. That is what all those fences are for.

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Yet despite best efforts to keep different groups apart, limited accommodation meant that journalists and some workers from within a different bubble shared the same hotel. While common areas like the lobby and communal dining spaces had been separated, with fences built on the outside, individuals from either side could still breach the cordon simply by using an underground carpark.

Volunteers also appeared to be in need of better training, with many giving confusing instructions and shuttle buses, the only mode of transport, having a constantly changing schedule.

There also appears to be a fair amount of construction still taking place.

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Hiccups are not unusual for Olympic Games and China will hope to have it all ironed out when the games begin on Feb 4, 2022.

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