Stepping into Beijing’s Olympic bubble is a surreal experience

For the thousands of athletes, journalists and others descending on Beijing for the Winter Olympics, China’s strict pandemic measures create a surreal and sometimes anxiety-provoking experience. China is isolating anyone coming from overseas from contact with the general public for the duration of the Games, which open next week. This means being taken from Beijing airport in special vehicles to a hotel surrounded by temporary barricades that keep attendees and the public out. the bus window and my hotel window,” said Associated Press photo editor Yirmiyan Arthur, who arrived this week. “I’m not really going to live China, I’m just going to live the Olympics in the bubble.” The experiences of AP reporters who have arrived or are preparing to leave offer insight into life inside the bubble. Photographer Jae Hong said he had been warned about the bubble but seeing it in effect in Beijing was still a shock. He described seeing passengers being met by workers wearing full white protective gear. Everyone is tested for COVID-19 at the airport before being transported to their barricaded hotels, the entrances protected by 24-hour guards. Organizers want to prevent any infection from exiting the bubble, as well as spreading inside the bubble, a heightened concern with the easily transmitted omicron variant. Everyone is tested daily – not getting tested the day before means being stuck in your hotel the next day. So far, organizers said on Thursday there had been 129 positive tests among the 4,046 people who had arrived for the Games. Of these, two are either athletes or team officials. The others are other participants such as the media. Those who test positive are taken to hospital if they have symptoms or to a quarantine hotel if they don’t. Even traveling to China can be worrying, requiring multiple negative COVID-19 tests entered into an app that displays your health status. This kept Arthur on edge during his journey from New Delhi to Beijing via Tokyo. A colleague who had already arrived in Beijing helped her download the application. Then she saw the health workers in biohazard gear after she got off the plane. “At the airport, it’s a bit scary, it’s almost like a hospital treating COVID patients in the second wave,” she said, referring to India’s devastating outbreak. March 2021. Tokyo also had strict rules for the Summer Olympics last year, but participants were allowed out of the bubble after two weeks. AP video reporter Johnson Lai, who has yet to depart for the Olympics, faces stress because China has no relations with Taiwan, his self-governing homeland which Beijing claims as its own territory. That meant he was unable to fill out the form in the Olympics app to get a code, which requires a test at a Chinese-approved hospital. “There are a lot of uncertain questions that we cannot control,” he said. China has a “zero tolerance” policy under which it quickly locks down affected areas and conducts mass testing of residents to detect infections and isolate them. Fengtai’s 2 million residents are undergoing a third round of testing since last weekend. After four cases were reported in the city of Langfang, just south of Beijing in Hebei province, authorities suspended travel between cities to try to prevent further spread. Arthur, the photo editor, was able to see other passengers at the airport from a bus, a view of people outside the Olympic bubble. “And you see…oh, there’s life there,” she said, “and you’re like, oh my God, it’s so close and yet so far.”

For the thousands of athletes, journalists and others heading to Beijing for the Winter Olympics, China’s strict pandemic measures create a surreal and sometimes anxiety-provoking experience.

China is isolating anyone coming from overseas from contact with the general public for the duration of the Games, which open next week. This means being taken from Beijing airport in special vehicles to a hotel surrounded by temporary barricades that keep attendees out and the public out.

“I know the only Beijing experience I’m going to have is the one I’ll see from my bus window and my hotel window,” said Associated Press photo editor Yirmiyan Arthur, who arrived this week. “I’m not really going to experience China, I’m just going to experience the Olympics in the bubble.”

The experiences of AP reporters who have arrived or are about to depart offer a glimpse of life inside the bubble.

Photographer Jae Hong said he had been warned about the bubble but seeing it in effect in Beijing was still a shock. He described seeing passengers being met by workers wearing full white protective gear. Everyone is tested for COVID-19 at the airport before being transported to their barricaded hotels, the entrances protected by 24-hour guards.

Organizers want to prevent any infection from exiting the bubble, as well as spreading inside the bubble, a heightened concern with the easily transmitted omicron variant. Everyone is tested daily – not getting tested the night before means being stuck in your hotel the next day.

So far, organizers said on Thursday there had been 129 positive tests among the 4,046 people who had arrived for the Games. Of these, two are either athletes or team officials. The others are other participants such as the media. Those who test positive are taken to hospital if they have symptoms or to a quarantine hotel if they don’t.

Even traveling to China can be worrying, requiring multiple negative COVID-19 tests entered into an app that displays your health status. This kept Arthur on edge during his journey from New Delhi to Beijing via Tokyo. A colleague who had already arrived in Beijing helped her download the application. Then she saw the health workers in biohazard gear after she got off the plane.

“At the airport it’s a bit scary, it’s almost like a hospital treating COVID patients in the second wave,” she said, referring to India’s devastating wave in March 2021.

Tokyo also had strict rules for the Summer Olympics last year, but participants were allowed out of the bubble after two weeks.

AP video reporter Johnson Lai, who has yet to depart for the Olympics, is stressed because China has no official relations with Taiwan, its self-governing homeland which Beijing claims as its own territory.

That meant he was unable to fill out the form in the Olympics app to get a code, which requires a test at a Chinese-approved hospital. “There are a lot of uncertain questions that we cannot control,” he said.

Outside the bubble, authorities in Beijing locked down other neighborhoods in Fengtai district on Thursday as they tried to quell an outbreak of the delta variant that infected around 70 people.

China has a “zero tolerance” policy under which it quickly locks down affected areas and conducts mass testing of residents to detect infections and isolate them. Fengtai’s 2 million residents all suffer a third round testing since last weekend.

Beijing’s epidemic has spread to neighboring provinces. After four cases were reported in the city of Langfang, just south of Beijing in Hebei province, authorities suspended travel between cities to try to prevent further spread.

Arthur, the photo editor, could see other passengers at the airport from a bus, a view of people outside the Olympic bubble. “And you see…oh, there’s life there,” she said, “and you’re like, oh my God, it’s so close and yet so far.”