China has turned the Olympic villages used to house athletes at the Beijing Winter Games into quarantine camps for anyone potentially infected with Covid-19.
Authorities used a closed-loop bubble during the Olympics in February to separate foreign athletes, coaches and journalists from mingling with the wider population for fear that outsiders would contaminate the Chinese capital.
Now the perceived threat is from within, as President Xi Jinping fights an Omicron wave that has tested the country’s tough approach to the health crisis that has included lockdowns of tens of millions of people. After nearly extinguishing an outbreak in May, the capital on Thursday reported 18 new cases linked to a cluster at a popular bar.
The latest outbreak has closed entertainment venues in the city, forced millions to queue daily for Covid testing and forced more than 6,000 people into isolation. As China develops its Covid-19 tracking system, combining mandatory smartphone check-ins at every establishment with phone location data, the number of people placed in quarantine has ballooned.
The city’s most populous district of Chaoyang ran out of beds in centralised quarantine facilities last month. This week local authorities bussed hundreds of close contacts of coronavirus cases two hours north to the Olympic Village in the ski town of Chongli.
Sean, a Beijing resident in his 20s, was sent north after the tracking system pinpointed him to a convenience store also visited by a confirmed Covid-19 case.
He said he passed by a statue of Olympic mascot Bing Dwen Dwen on the way into his room, which he is barred from leaving. “I quarantined at home for six days, then they took me here. I think I’ll need to stay here for seven days, but no one has told me any details,” he said.
A receptionist at a hotel in the village said the hotel would reopen to the public in October. “All of the winter Olympics facilities have turned into centralised quarantine facilities,” he said.
Other Beijingers have been isolated in the luxury hotels that also dot the Olympic site. “There are two TVs and only me in the room and windows on three sides — the conditions are so good,” said one woman on social media. “I’m looking forward to actually coming here for vacation when I’m free.”
Another woman posted a picture of the National Ski Jumping Centre outside her window.
Chinese officials appear to have realised that the billions spent constructing Beijing’s three Olympic villages and bubble infrastructure also created perfect isolation facilities.
Hundreds more Beijing residents are quarantined in the athlete’s village erected beside the Bird’s Nest Stadium, where the opening ceremony for the Games was held. The rows of apartment blocks are penned in by a tall fence and guarded by men in face masks.
“It was an Olympic village, now it’s a quarantine area,” said a guard, who declined to say how many people were stuck inside.
In Yanqing, the site of Beijing’s third Olympic Village and downhill skiing events, hotel walls painted with the five interlocking Olympic rings house more potential Covid cases. A staff member confirmed that the village had also been turned into a quarantine camp.