By Soorin Kim
The 2022 Winter Olympics have been threatened by disease, doping scandals and diplomatic boycotts, just to name a few. But China has managed to pull the games off relatively smoothly so far.
Their success has been compared to their previous Olympic hosting triumph in their 2008 “coming out party” when the nation showed the West their emerging cultural strength and economic dominance after a period of doubt.
This year, more than two years after the first case of Covid was detected in Wuhan, China has been tasked with safely managing an event heavily trafficked by Westerners, some of whom still harbor negative stereotypes regarding Asians and Covid-19.
With the nation being broadcast to millions of people worldwide, pressure was mounting to impress yet again, but this year, visitors wouldn’t be dazzled by new infrastructure and abundant wealth; those at the games would instead marvel at the strict and efficient way China has been dealing with Covid-19.
China’s Zero Covid Policy was adopted early on in the pandemic. It involves intense lockdowns, constant testing and apps that track location — all things that many American anti-maskers would abhor and claim are an insult to their civil liberties. Through these exacting precautions, citizens of China have been able to return to a semblance of normality, albeit while dealing with stay-at-home mandates imposed at the drop of a hat.
The Chinese government extended its policies to the wave of foreigners coming for the Olympic games.
People have referred to the space in which athletes and journalists reside as a bubble from which nobody can leave. Service work is contactless and conducted by robots and the athletes moved only from arena to hotel room. Vaccines were mandatory and so were nasal and throat swabs.
There was a sense of loneliness in the air, unlike most Olympic games which are usually pumped full of patriotic bravado and proud embraces.
American journalists have reported back on the draconian eccentricities that have marked their stay in Beijing. Some have reacted with shock, reflecting on the daily lives of Chinese denizens who are constantly under threat of being told to shelter in place should their phone’s tracking systems detect that they were in close proximity to someone who was also in close proximity to Covid.
It is a harrowing way to live when even a record of you purchasing cough syrup marks you as a potential spreader. But this year’s Winter Olympics has obviously been proven a huge victory for the nation, almost a second coming out party after conspiracy theories about a maliciously, lab escaped Covid-19 origin and false case reporting in Wuhan.
It is a beacon of hope for countries who are desperately trying to flatten the curve.
So could it work here?
I don’t think so. The dedication and control implemented by Chinese citizens is impressive and unparalleled in the West. People in this country have rallied in the streets protesting because of a baseless conspiracy theory that the vaccine will input a tracking device in your arm. There is no way that these same people will accept a government tracking device in their phone.
The guidelines for quarantine are likewise extreme and unrealistic for the United States. There have been horror stories of office workers trapped inside their business’ buildings for days after a reported case of Covid-19 from the next cubicle. Many Americans could not heed restrictions from the comfort of their own home; there is little hope for a calm acquiescence should they be trapped in their offices without access to showers or comfortable beds.
But it’s not just the negligence of individuals that is to blame; it is also the lack of ability possessed by our own government that makes China’s Zero Covid Policy a mere pipe dream in the U.S..
It’s hard to imagine thousands of state troopers deployed at every other doorstep, enforcing quarantine laws and delivering meals. Compared to effective and sterile China, America seems like a petri dish of infection and incompetence; despite this, tension between the two nations might develop into some version of cold war competition, racing towards dominance by extinguishing the virus.
But it seems unlikely that a look into China’s handling of the Olympics will spark a chord of patriotism that enables everyone across the American political spectrum to unite and end Covid if only to exercise bragging rights. The virus has gained a political slant that has led to a reluctance to give away certain liberties even if it is to enhance America’s image against a so-called rival country.
Los Angeles is slated to host the Olympics in six years. Nobody knows if Covid-19 will persist until then or if new pandemics may crop up in the meantime, as some experts have been predicting. Only time will tell if this country, torn asunder by an inability to cooperate in an era of plague, will get to have its own coming out party — one where our government proudly presents displays of health and safety.
The more likely scenario? Disaster.