The exemption, however, comes with a stringent requirement that foreigners not leave a “closed loop” of hotels and sports venues, linked by special buses and trains.
“We must never go outside the closed loop, let alone reach the city level — this is our bottom line,” said Huang Chun, deputy director of the Olympic organizing committee’s Office of Epidemic Prevention and Control.
For those outside China, getting to the Olympics in the first place remained the most urgent goal.
Many are now taking proactive measures to keep the virus at bay before their scheduled departures to Beijing. The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, for instance, has begun strongly encouraging, but not requiring, that its athletes receive booster shots. The British Olympic Association said it was similarly recommending boosters for its athletes “where feasible.” Some teams are going further, specifically telling athletes to try to obtain the Moderna booster after the company announced the results of early studies that appeared to show it was slightly more effective against the Omicron variant. Other studies have suggested those findings are more hopeful than realistic since the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines remain largely unavailable in much of the world.
For many athletes and teams, though, the heartbreak of having years of hard work erased by a positive test on the eve of the Games seemed almost unimaginable. That fear has led to changes large and small.
In the Netherlands, the national speedskating trials — typically a boisterous, multiday affair held in front of tens of thousands of fans — will take place next week behind closed doors amid nationwide lockdowns, with only teams and select members of the news media allowed to enter the rink.
In Austria, a group of American biathletes training at a high-altitude camp in Ramsau am Dachstein has been sending a single staff member out for sporadic visits to the grocery store with a big shopping list containing the athletes’ various requests, as part of an effort to limit potential exposure.
And Olympic hopefuls attending the U.S. figure skating championships next month in Nashville — where masks will be required for fans, but vaccinations will not — are already mapping out plans to avoid risky situations. Madison Hubbell, an American ice dancer, said major figure skating competitions were already infamous for spreading colds and flus. As in previous years, Hubbell will be staying in a rental apartment rather than the team hotel.