As Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics approaches, Beijing authorities highlighted the strict epidemic prevention and control measures needed to ensure the Games can be held safely and as scheduled.
Experts noted it is highly likely that Olympics-related personnel will receive a booster shot of COVID-19 vaccine, as the Delta strain is causing an increase in breakthrough infections.
"As we enter the Beijing Winter Olympics moment, strict epidemic prevention and control are the important premise for successfully hosting the Winter Olympics," Cai Qi, Party chief of Beijing and also president of Beijing Organizing Committee for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, said during his inspection of the competition venues on Monday.
Beijing 2022 is scheduled to take place from February 4 to February 20, 2022. Cai said the aim is for the Games to run "simply, safely and wonderfully."
The Tokyo Olympics proved that a major international event can be held successfully during the pandemic, and Beijing has a great commitment to effectively controlling infections, as Tokyo reported thousands of cases daily during the Summer Games. Health experts are confident in preventing outbreaks in Beijing and surrounding areas during the Winter Games.
Experts told the Global Times that Beijing 2022 might be able to have a domestic audience, as many events will be held outdoors. As for indoor events, spectators are likely to enter and leave stadiums through different channels to completely separate them from the athletes and working staff to lower infection risks.
Zhuang Shilihe, a Guangzhou-based immunologist, told the Global Times on Tuesday that a booster shot for some Winter Olympics-related personnel before the opening is "highly likely," although it is unknown how to arrange this for people who have received vaccines from different drug companies and different technical routes.
From data provided by countries around the world, it can be seen that the efficacy of the vaccine, regardless of the technical route, decreases in the face of the Delta variant, Zhuang explained. The level of antibodies also decreases slowly after vaccination, with breakthrough cases occurring from time to time.
"With the event nearly six months away, judging from the current prevalence of the variant and the population's immunization status, booster shots will be a great help to the Beijing Winter Olympics," Zhuang said.
In addition to vaccinations, Beijing will also take strict precautions in venues to curtail the spread of the virus.
"Event preparation, venue renovation and operation must be closely integrated with epidemic prevention and control measures. Each venue should set up a command center to coordinate the relevant work," Cai said.
Cai stressed that it is necessary to apply "one policy for one pavilion," and implement closed-loop management, in order to cut off all possible means of virus transmission during the Games.
Most of the venues for Beijing 2022 are being converted from existing stadiums in the city. The National Speed Skating Oval, dubbed the "Ice Ribbon," is the only new competition venue constructed for the Beijing Winter Olympics.
The venues have implemented strict epidemic prevention requirements, using zoning management, physical isolation and other means to avoid mixing of personnel.
The previous National Aquatics Center, known as the "Water Cube," has been renovated into the "Ice Cube" and is preparing to host the 2021 World Wheelchair Curling Championship, which will be an early test for the venue's epidemic prevention system.
The Beijing Organizing Committee for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games sent 34 people to Japan to learn from the experience of the Tokyo Olympics in terms of anti-epidemic measures.
Compared with Tokyo 2020, Beijing 2022 has both advantages and challenges in epidemic prevention and control, health experts said.
China's epidemic prevention has had many pioneering successes and experiences, such as real-time health codes, and a fast and well-developed epidemiological investigation process, Zhuang noted. "All of these measures can be carried over to the Winter Olympics' epidemic prevention."
"But winter itself is a time when respiratory viruses are more plentiful and more likely to survive, and this will be a major challenge for the Winter Olympics' epidemic prevention."