The COVID-19 pandemic has been flooding the world for almost two years now, and though it postponed the 2020 Tokyo Olympics for one year, this will not hold true in Beijing.
The 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics are running right on schedule. The Opening Ceremony was held Friday, Feb. 4, and competition will run until Sunday, Feb. 20.
So, yes, the Games are being held, but that does not mean the international event will endure without challenges. With many COVID-19 positive cases already, it is inevitable that more cases will transmit throughout the entirety of the contest. However, protocols are in place and nations are hungry to compete regardless of the pandemic.
Here’s all the information you need regarding COVID-19 – who has tested positive, what protocols are in place and how this will affect the games – at the 2022 Winter Olympics:
Who competing at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games is currently COVID-19 positive?
Team USA figure skater Vincent Zhou tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday. After helping the U.S. earn a silver medal in the team event, Zhou will now miss the remainder of the Olympics.
Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics
Watch all the action from the Beijing Olympics live on NBC
For Team USA, three-time bobsled medalist Elana Meyers Taylor announced that she tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving in Beijing. She was cleared on Saturday and will be able to compete.
Team USA bobsledder Josh Williamson also tested positive among other U.S. athletes on the sliding team. However, he was cleared on Wednesday. Bobsled training runs begin on Feb. 10.
Three U.S. men's hockey players -- defenseman Jake Sanderson, defenseman Steven Kampfer and forward Andy Miele -- entered COVID protocols on Feb. 4. Sanderson was isolating in Los Angeles, while Kampfer and Miele entered COVID protocols in Beijing. Sanderson cleared protocols on Wednesday and was spotted on the ice at practice on Friday morning in Beijing.
Russia revealed one athlete who tested positive and will therefore not be competing in the Games. Figure skater Mikhail Kolyada tested positive before his pre-Games training camp. The three-time national champion was replaced by Russia’s own Yevgeny Semenenko.
Austria’s Marita Kramer, who was the favorite to win gold in women’s ski jumping, will also miss the Games after failing to recover from COVID-19 in time.
Who tested positive for COVID-19 prior to the 2022 Winter Olympic Games?
A number of athletes have tested positive during Olympic qualification periods and even before that. And though these athletes will be safe from COVID-19 once the games begin, the road to recovery was definitely stressful, considering their spot in the Games was ambiguous until they tested negative. Two stories that stood out are those of Shaun White and Alysa Liu.
Shaun White, three-time gold medalist snowboarder, tested positive for the virus during the qualification period, but was able to compete in the final qualifying event for Beijing 2022 at Mammoth Mountain, which took place on Jan. 6-8. White qualified for the Olympics and will be returning to the slopes for the fourth time.
Similarly, figure skater Alysa Liu tested positive for COVID-19 just before the U.S. Figure Skating National Championship, which took place on Jan. 3-9. Liu was not able to compete, but the 16-year-old star petitioned for a spot on Team USA regardless of her unfortunate situation. Winning the last two National Championships definitely helped Liu’s case, and after careful consideration, the organization granted her a spot on Team USA Figure Skating.
What is the protocol if someone tests positive during the Games?
“If any athlete tests positive for COVID-19, he/she will be reported and managed according to relevant requirements,” the Olympics media team said to CNN.
According to Dr. Brian McCloskey, chair of the medical expert panel for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games, any participant who has tested positive in the last 30 days is required to provide five negative PCR tests before they are allowed to enter China. If a person is to test positive upon arrival to Beijing, they will be isolated until they test negative twice.
“Our tolerance for risk is probably a bit lower than it would be for many national governments because national governments are trying to balance keeping the economy going and getting the workforce in etc., against the risk of infection. We’re trying to manage the risk of infection and make sure it doesn’t get in and spread around the village,” said McCloskey.
If an athlete tests positive before or during the games, while in the Olympic Village, he/she will first be asked to retest to ensure the results are valid. After top-level Chinese and international medical experts evaluate the situation and retest the individual, if the test remains positive, the athlete will no longer be eligible to compete at the Games.
Symptomatic individuals will have to remain in a designated hospital for the entirety of their isolation, unless they can provide two negative tests during the isolation period. Asymptomatic individuals must remain in a designated isolation facility for the duration of their 10-day quarantine. If this period ends before the games are over, the athlete might have a chance to return to play, but with 12-hour testing protocols and consistent strict medical evaluations.
What is Beijing doing to protect participants from COVID-19 during the Games?
“We want everyone at the Games to be safe, that’s why we’re asking all participants to follow these guidelines,” said IOC Olympic Games executive director Christophe Dubi.
“Keeping everyone healthy will ensure the focus remains on the very fundamentals of the Olympic and Paralympic Games,” he added.
Here are some of the safety precautions that will be taken during the Games:
Closed loop system
The host country is apparently sealing the entire Games inside of a “closed loop system.” The shield is essentially a bubble closed off from the rest of the city, in order to prevent any contamination or transmission of the virus prior to or during the Games. There will be transport from the loop to all of the surrounding game arenas. The trial run of this novice system began on Jan. 4 in preparation for when the torch will be lit on Feb. 4.
Evaluating cycle thresholds
A partnership between the IOC and the Beijing Olympic Committee has set in place a higher threshold for sensitivity on COVID-19 testing, 40, compared to Canadian health standards, which uses 35. If the cycle threshold (Ct) value is higher, the less infectious a person who tested positive for COVID-19 is. This decision was made in response to what previously occurred during the 2020 Tokyo Games, in regards to the virus’ transmission.
The Beijing Olympic Committee plans to use the conventional PCR test to test individuals for the virus. They will be required to take part in pre-departure tests (in their own country and once they arrive in Beijing). According to the IOC, “All Games participants are subject to daily PCR testing run by medical personnel present in the accommodation facilities, including the Olympic Villages and at the Olympic venues.”
International spectators will not be allowed to enter the country for the Games. There will be no ticketing to the general public either. There will only be a small number of “selected” spectators, but with even stricter guidelines than those who attended the Tokyo 2022 Summer Games.
Masks and social distancing
Participants are encouraged to avoid tight-knit and enclosed spaces, as well as to wear masks when not competing. Every nation taking part will also be asked to nominate COVID-19 liaison officers to assist with health protocols, such as avoiding close contact.
Do all athletes have to be fully vaccinated to compete in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics?
Yes, there is a vaccination policy in order to participate in the 2022 Winter Olympics - whether that be competing, volunteering, or spectating.
However, technically the Games define “fully vaccinated” as being based off of the athletes’ home countries’ guidelines. Technically, athletes can be deemed “fully vaccinated” with only one dosage of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Furthermore, the IOC encourages but does not require athletes to receive their booster shot.
If a participant is not fully vaccinated, they will need to undergo immunoglobulin antibody testing within 72 hours of their departure from their home country to China. They will also be required to quarantine for 21 days upon their arrival to China, almost a full month before the Games begin.