At the Winter Olympics, the fight against the virus carried out with sacrifices of workers | Sports


BEIJING (AP) — In her mind, Cathy Chen imagines a scene she thinks could be taken from a TV drama: Falling into her husband’s arms after long months apart, when he meets her at the exit of the plane from Beijing. Pick up their two young daughters and hug them tight.

“I’m just imagining when we’ll be back together,” Olympic Games worker says, “and I just can’t control myself.”

Thus, athletes from countries where the coronavirus has raged can compete in the Olympic host country with few infectionsthe Chinese workforce at the Winter Games is making a huge sacrifice.

Separating them from the life they were busy living before the arrival of the Olympic circus, more than 50,000 Chinese workers have been hermetically sealed inside the Great Wall-like virus prevention fence that the China has erected around the Games, enclosed with the Olympic athletes and visitors.

The Olympians take off for just a few weeks with their skis, skates, sledges and other equipment. Chinese workers who cook, clean, transport, care for and otherwise run the Winter Games are sequestered inside the sanitary bubble for several months. While the Olympians hold on to memories to cherish for a lifetime, their Chinese hosts are putting family life on ice.

The sacrifice was made greater by its timing: the Olympic race was superimposed on the ushering in February 1 of the Lunar New Yearthe biggest and most valuable annual holiday in china. As their loved ones celebrated the advent of the Year of the Tiger, Olympic workers connected with them as best they could via video calls from inside the “closed loop”.

It’s the sweet-sounding name Chinese authorities have given to the virus barrier they’ve built with high walls, police patrols, thickets of security cameras, mandatory daily tests and countless jets of disinfectant – separating the Winter Games from the rest of China.

Chen found a place in the underground workers’ canteen at the main Olympic press center for a New Year’s Eve video call with her husband, Issac, and their two daughters, six-year-old Kiiara and 18-month-old Sia. They were gathering with extended family for a celebratory dinner. Chen keeps a screenshot of the call on his phone. She also has a photo of the four of them posing together on Dec. 26, the day Chen flew from their home in southern China to pick up her Olympic job in Beijing.

She works in a Chinese medicine exhibition space at the Olympic Press Center. Initially hesitant to spend months away from her family, Chen then decided the opportunity to mingle with foreign visitors and promote the pharmaceutical company she works for couldn’t be turned down. She is also hoping for a triple paycheck for working during the Lunar New Year holiday.

“My boss is happy,” she said. “Because it’s hard work.”

Its Games will end with the closing ceremony next Sunday. Like all Chinese workers upon leaving the bubble, she will then be quarantined in Beijing for a week or two. Only then, two months after she kissed them goodbye, will the long-awaited reunion with her family come.

“I can’t wait another day,” she said. “I miss my youngest baby the most.”

Because China’s ruling Communist Party does not allow workers to organize independently and without free unions, there is not a whisper of public complaint about working conditions inside the bubble. .

Many perform mundane, repetitive tasks and work weeks without days off. Battalions of cleaners are constantly wiping and disinfecting surfaces. Hospital doctors have been reassigned to the relatively unskilled job of collecting oral swabs for the daily coronavirus tests that are mandatory for all game participants. Volunteers and guards count people entering and leaving the premises, tracking numbers with checkmarks on sheets of paper. But no one will be heard publicly complaining about the Olympic effort the Communist Party is using to show off its power.

The bubble has been in effect since January 4, a month before President Xi Jinping declared the games open. After five weeks of living on a loop, the most critical things workers will say is that they’re losing track of time, the days are looking the same, and they’re longing for a break from canteen food: too bland for those in regions with a cuisine embellished with hot peppers, too invariable for those who yearn for home cooking and comfort.

Publicly, on the other hand, everyone agrees how privileged they are to do their part, no matter how small. And all say locking them up is a small sacrifice to keep the coronavirus from jumping the barrier to their families, friends and everyone else outside. More than 1.2 million tests had revealed 426 positives by day 8, but there were no reports of contamination leaking from the Olympic bubble.

Volunteer worker Dong Jingge misses her grandparents and has an unglamorous Olympic task: she guards the door of a closed catering space for Olympic visitors subject to additional health surveillance because they have already tested positive . She counts them and asks them to disinfect their hands.

The interactions improve her English, enthuses the 21-year-old student. Her highlight so far has been meeting the President of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach. He gave her a small metal lapel pin of the Olympic rings.

His mother, out of the circuit, was over the moon. “Such a rare opportunity, unforgettable moment,” she messaged when Dong posted a photo of her award. the quarantine will total almost three months.

Olympic pilot Li Hong says he is living his “dream” of ferrying visitors and workers from venues on his night shift. He was told to expect the equivalent of just under $80 a day, which should be a pretty penny when he returns home in late February after two months in the bubble.

But he’s there for the experience, he says, not for the money or the hope that Olympic service might look good on his membership application if he tries to join the Communist Party.

“I thought to myself, I’m over 50. In my lifetime, I should serve the country,” he said. “It’s great.”


Associated Press reporter Dake Kang contributed. Follow Parisian AP journalist John Leicester on Twitter at More from AP Olympics:

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