BEIJING (Reuters) – Dozens of athletes who tested positive for COVID-19 in China before and during the Beijing Winter Olympics and were isolated, have now come out of quarantine ready to compete, organisers said on Tuesday.
For many others though, the dream of Olympic glory has ended prematurely, or still hangs in the balance, following their positive PCR tests in Beijing.
Since Jan. 23 some 159 team athletes and staff have tested positive either at the airport in Beijing or in the ‘closed loop’, which restricts movements for all Games participants and keeps them away from the local population.
So far 50 athletes, including three-time Olympic medallist American bobsledder Elana Meyers Taylor, have been discharged from their isolation quarters and allowed to resume normal training as well as compete in their events if they have not missed them.
For 32 other athletes, such as three-time gold medallist Nordic combined skier Eric Frenzel of Germany and Finland’s ice hockey player Marko Anttila, the agony of isolation continues, with the Games that started on Friday ending on Feb.20.
They all remain shielded from the rest of their teams in special locations.
These isolation quarters have triggered the fury of athletes and team officials alike, demanding organisers immediately improve conditions, including better food, internet, training equipment and more space.
Others such as Polish speed skater Natalia Maliszewska, 26, had to endure a back-and-forth between isolation facilities and the Olympic village due to negative tests being followed by positive ones, a process that left her fearful and in constant tears.
“I understand the frustration and disappointment. It is not a good place to be but we are trying to improve that,” Brian McCloskey, chair of the Beijing 2022 medical expert panel, said.
“I cannot make the pandemic go away. The pandemic is real and the risk is real,” he said.
McCloskey said testing negative and positive intermittently could be either down to an old infection still shedding or a new one. Athletes who tested positive could not be introduced into the Games’ loop and risk a spread of the virus.
He rejected claims that testing was based on political or cultural criteria that could give the home nation an advantage. That concern had been voiced by some officials and athletes prior to the Games.
“They (tests) are based on science and they have been for many months before the Games started,” he said. “We have been looking at evidence (regarding COVID-19) as it emerged and we have been playing that into the protocols here.”
“People can continue to test positive intermittently.”
(Editing by Jacqueline Wong)