The first few days of competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics have taken place largely without a hitch, attended by a limited number of lucky spectators.
Strict operating procedures and bubbles within bubbles have proved to be effective in terms of limiting exposure from fan to athlete. Due to this success, China announced during a press conference that it will invite more spectators to attend the Games.
Initially, it was believed that Chinese citizens would be able to attend events. However, as the Games approached, and COVID-19 rates and the Omicron variant spread around the world, it became a nonstarter. China did select a number of spectators from certain groups of people to attend limited events. These attendees had to undergo strict COVID-19 protocols.
While not ideal, the very limited number of fans is better than no fans at all. In 2020, the Tokyo Olympics largely took place without spectators due to a surge in COVID-19 cases.
A realistic goal for organizers looks to be about 30% capacity at some venues before the Olympics are over.
"In the next step, we will bring in more spectators based on demand, because the current COVID-19 situation within the 'closed loop' is under control," Huang Chun, a director from the organizers’ pandemic prevention and control office, said at a press briefing on Tuesday.
The additional fans will continue to follow similar steps to the ones who have attended events this past week. The spectators will be separated from athletes and other people in the closed-loop bubble by going in and out through specific gates and sitting in the designated areas that are separated by more gates and fences.
Attendance does come at a figurative cost. These lucky fans must take multiple COVID-19 tests and agree to health checks for weeks after the event they attend.
Allowing more fans at the Games is definitely a positive sign. Not only for the athletes competing, but in terms of the overall experience for the host nation.
"Our stadium has capacity to accept more spectators... If we add a small amount of people, it will not affect current COVID-19 measures," Qi Liang, secretary general of the National Indoor Stadium, said at a separate presser on Tuesday.
The stadium, which is hosting ice hockey events, has a capacity of 18,000 spectators, but has been allowing only about 1,000 for each event.
The Olympics Organizing Committee reported zero COVID-19 cases among new airport arrivals and six new positive cases from people already in the closed-loop on Monday, the lowest daily tally in two weeks.
"I think your chance of picking up a COVID-19 case in the closed-loop is less than anywhere else," Brian McCloskey, chair of the 2022 Medical Expert Panel, told the news conference.
Hopefully as the Games continue, the return of more fans will allow athletes to perform on some of the biggest stages of their careers to the roar of a crowd – something most of them haven’t heard in over two years.