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If Beijing Olympics athletes aren't vaccinated, they'll be in quarantine for 21 days

Unvaccinated people who arrive in China for the Beijing Olympcs will face isolation in a mandatory three-week quarantine. Here, a room is seen in the athletes village in Zhangjiakou, China.
Lintao Zhang
Getty Images
Unvaccinated people who arrive in China for the Beijing Olympcs will face isolation in a mandatory three-week quarantine. Here, a room is seen in the athletes village in Zhangjiakou, China.

Olympic athletes, team staff and journalists who arrive at the Beijing 2022 Winter Games next February will be required to be vaccinated — or face a three-week "hard quarantine" period that lasts longer than the Games themselves. That's according to new guidelines from the International Olympic Committee.

A hard quarantine requires a participant to remain in a tightly controlled area, such as a hotel room. To avoid that requirement, anyone visiting China for the Olympics will need to be vaccinated at least 14 days before arrival.

"With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, absolutely no one involved in the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 can afford to be complacent," said Colleen Wrenn, the International Paralympic Committee's chief Paralympic Games delivery officer.

Daily coronavirus tests will be mandatory

Daily PCR tests will also be required, according to the Olympics' new COVID-19 "playbooks" that were released Monday. The requirements were created by the International Olympic Committee, Beijing organizers and China's government.

"If you have been to the Games before, I know this experience will be different in a number of ways," said Juan Antonio Samaranch, who chairs the coordinating commission for the Beijing 2022 Olympics. But he added that the restrictions are the only way to safely hold the Games during a pandemic.

The policies are stricter than those used in this summer's Tokyo Olympics, where athletes were required to be tested multiple times as they traveled to Japan — but were then required to quarantine for three days. Athletes also underwent daily testing in Tokyo.

Exceptions to the vaccine rule will be on medical grounds only

It's too soon to know what impact the policy might have on Team USA, particularly because many event rosters are not yet finalized. But the U.S. lagged behind many other large delegations at the Tokyo Olympics. Roughly 100 out of the more than 610 U.S. Olympians who went to Japan did so without being vaccinated.

In Beijing, the vaccine requirement can be waived "on a case-by-case basis, based on medical reasons," organizers said. The policy does not mention religious beliefs or other conditions that frequently allow for exceptions to vaccine rules in the U.S.

Visitors will be limited to traveling to "permitted destinations"

Athletes, the media and others who are visiting China for the Winter Games will also be restricted to a "closed loop," where they'll be kept as separate as possible from the local population. They're "only allowed to travel in dedicated vehicles between permitted destinations," the playbooks state.

"This is to ensure that all COVID-19 countermeasures are strictly followed and there is no contact with the general public or anyone outside of the closed loop," the playbook says. Many of those conditions are similar to Japanese organizers' approach to the Tokyo Olympics, which were postponed by a year due to the pandemic.

The Beijing Olympics start about 100 days from now

The Winter Olympics' opening ceremony will take place on Feb. 4; the Games conclude on Feb. 20. The Paralympic Winter Games will be held from March 4 to 13.

The newly released playbooks — one for athletes and teams, another for the media — are the first edition of the COVID-19 rules for the Beijing Olympics; an update is expected to come later this year.

"In developing the Playbooks, we made it a top priority to safeguard the safety and health of all Games participants including athletes, as well as the Chinese people," said Han Zirong, secretary-general of the Beijing 2022 organizing committee.

Unlike most events at the Tokyo Summer Olympics, spectators will be allowed to attend events at the Beijing Winter Olympics in person — but only if they're from mainland China.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell
Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.