Athletes to face stiff penalties for flouting Covid-19 rules at upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics

The 2022 Games will be held in a strict "closed loop" bubble.
The 2022 Games will be held in a strict "closed loop" bubble.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING – Athletes at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics will face stiff punishments  and could face expulsion from the Games if they flout China’s strict Covid-19 control measures, Chinese officials said on Wednesday (Oct 27).

Beijing Vice-Mayor Zhang Jiandong called on athletes and Games personnel to adhere to Covid-19 regulations at a press briefing, where he called the pandemic “the biggest challenge to these Winter Games”.

With less than 100 days till the start of the Games on Feb 4, China is currently battling an outbreak that has seen it put millions of people in lockdown.

Those at the Winter Olympics who do not comply with strict containment measures could face “warnings, temporary or permanent cancellation of registration status, temporary or permanent cancellation of competition qualifications, expulsion from competition, other relevant cancellations or even more serious consequences”, said Mr Wang, who is also the executive vice-president of the Games’ organising committee.

On Wednesday, China reported 50 local infections on Tuesday, the highest number in over a month.

The country, whose measures are among the strictest in the world, has a zero-tolerance policy towards Covid-19, employing a system of border controls and rigorous testing to keep the virus at bay.

Beijing has said that foreign spectators would not be able to travel to China to watch the sporting event, which will be held in a “bubble”.

Competitors will be subject to daily Covid-19 tests and will be required to remain in a closed loop, with dedicated transport shuttling them to and from the Games village, competition venues and other permitted areas.

Games participants will also have to be tested for Covid-19 before arrival, and be fully vaccinated to avoid spending 21 days in quarantine.   

Beijing’s warning to participants comes after reports of athletes flouting Covid-19 regulations during the Summer Games held earlier this year in Tokyo.

Some 2,900 athletes will be travelling to the Chinese capital for the Games from Feb 4 to 20 next year - which will utilise some of the  venues used in the 2008 Olympics, including the “Bird’s Nest” stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies. 

Mr Zhang told reporters that “hardware” facilities for Covid-19 control are in place and that the goal for organisers is to hold a “safe and smooth” Winter Games.

The Hebei provincial government, which borders Beijing and hosts several competition venues, also said it is building mobile labs capable of handling 40,000 samples for the daily Covid-19 tests.

“For the next stage, Covid-19 response is going to be the priority. During the Winter Games, we will adopt comprehensive measures to minimise risks of case importation and ensure the health security of all participants and people in host cities,” said Mr Zhang. 

Meanwhile, the latest spate of local infections shows no sign of slowing. Linked to domestic travellers, the outbreak has spread to at least 11 provinces, as well as the capital Beijing.

The authorities are on high alert, especially in Beijing, stepping up mass testing and the administration of booster shots, closing tourist sites and restricting travel.

Beijing officials also announced on Wednesday that schools should cancel or delay year-end examinations where possible.

Comparing the rules
Tokyo 2020 Olympics

• Two negative tests before travelling to Japan - done within 96 hours and 72 hours before departure
• Three-day quarantine on arrival
• Face masks must be worn at all times
• Daily Covid-19 tests
• Athletes have to submit an activity plan and can visit only the listed locations

Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics

• Two negative tests before travelling to China - done within 96 hours and 72 hours before departure
• Participants must be fully vaccinated to be exempted from 21 days of quarantine, with exceptions on a case-by-case basis
• Face masks must be worn at all times
• Temperature checks before entry to venues
• Daily Covid-19 tests
• Athletes must stay within the area allocated to their national Olympic/Paralympic committee and not visit other delegations' blocks unless necessary