China has issued a controversial new order to citizens of Beijing, asking them to avoid helping victims of traffic accidents related to the Olympics. The order comes just ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics scheduled to be held in Beijing next month.
On Jan. 9, Beijing’s Traffic Management Bureau advised people to maintain a “safe distance” from accidents involving the Winter Olympic vehicles in order to avoid the spread of COVID-19.
“Do not make contact with vehicles or personnel in them and wait for professionals to arrive at the scene,” the bureau said in a post on Weibo.
Helping victims of the crash would be a breach of the COVID-19 “bubble” Beijing has set up for the Games. The “bubble,” which was closed up last week, is a term signifying a protocol in which thousands of staff, volunteers, cooks, coach drivers, and cleaners employed at the Games will be cocooned inside the Olympic site for weeks until the event is over.
During this period, these people will have zero access to the outside world. Even athletes taking part in the Games are prohibited from coming into contact with people outside the bubble. Those who enter the bubble must either be fully vaccinated or submit to a 21-day quarantine. Every individual inside the bubble is required to wear a face mask at all times and will be tested on a daily basis.
The recent outbreak in the port city of Tianjin, which is close to Beijing, has triggered alarm bells. Tianjin is home to many people who work in Beijing and has reported China’s first local cases of Omicron infection. The Beijing Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has advised people to avoid traveling between the two cities. Tianjin citizens who work in Beijing have been asked to work from home.
“[Lunar New Year] is approaching … the Beijing Winter Olympic Games and Paralympic Games are just around the corner, pandemic prevention and control cannot be relaxed for a moment,” the agency said.
The closed bubble strategy is part of China’s overall “zero-COVID” policy which insists that governments must prioritize limiting the spread of the virus over all other social, economic, or other concerns.
Some officials like Yanzhong Huang, director of the Center for Global Health Studies at Seton Hall University, see the policy as a potential win. If Beijing succeeds in ensuring that there are no major outbreaks amidst the Olympics while the “zero-COVID” strategy is being observed, it would validate the regime’s policy and will be “another gold medal” for the country, he told NYT.
However, some are backing away from overly emphasizing the “zero-COVID” target.
“Right now we don’t yet have the ability to ensure that there are zero local cases… But we do have the ability and the confidence to quickly extinguish local cases when we find them,” Liang Wannian, a senior official of China’s National Health Commission, said in a statement.
Transport authorities in Beijing have set up a special transmit system meant specifically for those who are part of the Olympic Games, including dedicated high-speed rail lines that will operate side-by-side with the public systems. A report from the state-backed Global Times stated that the Winter Olympic Organizing Committee of Hebei Province has set up a service center, passageway, and waiting areas specifically for athletes to ensure that they never come into contact with other people.
“Since the Beijing Winter Olympics involves three competition zones in two cities, China will provide high-speed railroads for athletes and other personnel to travel to and from the competition zones. High-speed trains with a maximum speed of 350 kilometers per hour will transport Olympic-related personnel to and from the competition zones, which are more than 100 kilometers apart,” according to the media outlet.