Inside the Beijing Olympic Balloon: Robots, Swabs and a Big Game of Cards

BEIJING – This strategy is bold and tough, and that’s the point.

For Chinese officials, creating a big bubble is their best (and possibly only) hope of safely holding the Olympic Games and maintaining this kind of “zero Covid-19” policy. “which is a government priority and national pride.

Game organizers say they have conducted more than 500,000 checks since January 23 and discovered at least 232 cases of the virus, most of which were when people arrived at Prime International Airport Beijing capital. Authorities said 11 people were hospitalized.

It’s a 48-hour journey through the Olympic bubble, which begins when Air France Flight 128 from Paris arrives on Monday.

Even before sunlight hits the airport, all it takes to detect the “closed loop” is a glance through the windows of a Boeing 777: Runway workers control the world’s flights Olympic Games when they arrived in Beijing were all wearing protective gear, the white clearly more startling than their illuminated orange batons.

Many people wearing coats and gloves stood at the pier. Then more in the empty, cavernous waiting room, sealed off to all but those associated with the Game. More are still waiting in the coves, equipped with nose and throat swabs to test the thousands of people who tested negative just before their flight and most are fully vaccinated.

After picking his nose and doing a few swishes in his throat, creating plenty of laughs, the waiter obtained samples as one of China’s best and last chances to contain the virus.

The bus driver sat behind a plastic barrier, allowing him and his passengers to communicate with gestures and shrugs.

A worker sprays a bus, presumably with disinfectant, as it leaves the airport to a hotel with guards controlling the gates open only to allow bubble-approved vehicles.

An assistant manager gave me the key to my room, where I would stay until my airport test results were ready. However, I can order room service in the meantime.

The doorbell rang. By the time I got to the door, the delivery man was barely visible down the hallway, neatly packaged food left on a table marked “Contact Free Handover”.

13:14, a woman called with the test result: negative. I can leave my room. Beijing is open, or as open as this trip.

Alternative city buses are racing through Beijing. Each block shows how by accident it usually arrives during the migration, and reporting will be limited.

Outside venues, “Detour Area Closed” signs remind the Chinese public that their vision of the Olympics on the ground will be through the fences and protections of the past. “Please don’t cross the line.”

Of course, restaurants located outside of the bubble are prohibited to Game participants. But the machine of the state and the Olympics made a city for itself. The “Main Communications Center,” which spans more than 400,000 square feet, can feel like an intersection between Epcot and Willy Wonka’s factories, where robots and computers arrange floor cleaning, temperature measurement, and information scanning. credentials at the checkpoints.

I’ve heard of a robot that can pester anyone who isn’t wearing a mask properly, and I see machines preparing dumplings, fried rice, and broccoli. Plates sometimes come down from the ceiling with sparkling bowls of hot food. (The dumplings and broccoli are excellent; the rice is a bit dry though).

It was dusk outside, and the 846-foot Olympic Tower sparkled with red and blue lights as the music throbbed ahead of the Lunar New Year. However, the nearest squares are mostly empty.

I seem to have passed the Covid test I took on Monday night at the hotel as part of the daily ritual about these Games. I think it will be easier to breathe later, once the threat of infection from traveling to Asia has subsided.

I watched American hockey players and coaches walk on the ice in practice. Kendall Coyne Schofield, appearing in her Third Game, beamed as she posed for a snap in the face-to-face circle. Even in this crowded world, there is joy in sports, still proud that this is the Olympic Games.

My phone rang just before Hilary Knight, an American star striker, scheduled a chat with reporters.

“One person confirmed positive on Flight AF128 sitting in SEAT 53A,” the recipe email announced.

I flew in seat 54A and am now classified as close contact.

I hurried out of the interview room, feeling tearful but mostly uncertain about every nuance of the protocols and afraid of inadvertently getting into more trouble. Between emails and calls with Terri Ann Glynn, Olympic logistics for The New York Times, and our designated Covid liaison, I debated whether to text my wife home. , 13 hours behind Beijing or not. I decided to let her sleep.

I take my own car to the media center; The Olympic bus system is not an option for close contacts.

I remember enough of the rules to know that the coming days depended on whether I was “important” to the Olympics. I was surprised to learn that I was, and so the rules were basically this: For seven days, medical staff would come to my hotel room twice a day to check in. I had to eat alone, and I had to stay outside the bus.

But I can still cover the Olympics – if I’m still negative.

When the doorbell rang this time, the guest didn’t run away. Instead, two flight attendants wearing blue protective gear are waiting to begin advanced testing. I think I heard chuckles as I bent down so the man could pick my throat. Perhaps I have become used to it; I barely gagged.

Around 10:15 p.m., a photographer sent the group a text: “An ambulance outside the hotel again,” presumably to someone in need of Covid-19 treatment elsewhere. I wonder if my results have come back yet.

Not so. But a test group will visit my room again in less than 12 hours.

I have no symptoms. However, I stayed awake because of jet lag, and I was paranoid about turning myself into a case and being put in an isolation facility. I ate a piece of chocolate to see if I still had an appetite. That’s right, so I once again calculated the potential incubation periods.

But it is an exercise that only has so much value. Nothing can stop the infection that can build up in the bubble. I turned my attention to writing about sports.

After all, the Olympics are still going on as China promised. Inside the Beijing Olympic Balloon: Robots, Swabs and a Big Game of Cards

Fry Electronics Team

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