Winter Olympics: Workers sacrifice for the fight against viruses

Cathy Chen imagines Cathy Chen falling into her husband's arms after months of separation

Winter Olympics: Workers sacrifice for the fight against viruses

This is when he met her on the Beijing plane. Scooping up their daughters, and pressing down hard.

"I imagine when we're all back together," says the Olympic Games worker. "And I can't control my emotions."

Athletes from countries with the coronavirus have been able to compete in the Olympic host country with few infections. This is a huge sacrifice for China's workforce at Winter Games.

They were taken from their lives before the Olympic circus arrived and more than 50,000 Chinese workers were locked up in the Great Wall-like ring of virus prevention measures China built around the Games.

The Olympians flew in just for a few weeks to bring their skates, skis, and other gear. The Winter Games are made possible by the efforts of Chinese workers, who clean, transport, care for, and cook for the athletes. They will be kept in a sanitary bubble for several weeks. Their Chinese hosts are making it difficult for Olympians to have lasting memories.

The timing of the Olympic run-up made the sacrifice even more significant: it coincided with the heralding in on February 1st, the most important and most sacred annual holiday in China. Olympic workers connected with their loved ones via video calls as they celebrated the Year of the Tiger.

This is the soft-sounding title Chinese authorities gave to the anti-viral barrier that they built. It includes high walls, police patrols and thickets security cameras. Daily tests are mandatory. There are also countless squirts disinfectant.

Chen was able to find a spot in the underground workers' canteen at the Olympic press center with her husband Issac and their daughters Kiiara (age six) and Sia (18 months). They were gathered with extended family to celebrate a dinner. Chen saves a screen capture of the phone call to her phone. Chen also keeps a photo of her and Chen posing together in December 26, when Chen left their southern China home to accept her Olympic job at Beijing.

Chen works in the Olympic press centre at a Chinese medicine exhibit space. Chen was initially hesitant about being away from her family for so many months, but she decided to accept the chance to meet overseas visitors and promote the pharmaceutical firm she works for. Chen hopes to receive triple her salary for working through the Lunar New Year holiday.

She said, "My boss is happy." "Because it is hard work."

The closing ceremony for her Games will take place next Sunday. She will be kept in Beijing for at least a week, just like all Chinese workers who exit the bubble. The much-anticipated reunion will only come two months later, after she has said goodbye to her family.

She said, "I can't even wait one more day." "I miss my younger child most."

China's Communist Party doesn't allow workers to organize themselves and has no free trade unions. There is not one complaint from the public about working conditions within the bubble.

Many people are working long hours, often doing repetitive and mundane tasks. There are battalions of cleaners who clean and disinfect surfaces daily. The relatively untrained job of taking oral samples for daily coronavirus testing, which is mandatory for all participants in the games, has been given to hospital doctors. Guards and volunteers count the people who enter and exit venues and track numbers using ticks on paper. However, no one will complain publicly about the Olympic project that the Communist Party uses to display its rule.

Since January 4, the bubble was in effect, a month after President Xi Jinping opened the games. Five weeks into loop life, workers will tell you that they are losing track of the time and that their days are resembling one another. They also say that they long for a break in canteen food. Canteen food is too bland for people who come from areas with spicy chili peppers and too boring for many who crave home cooking and comforts.

Publicly, however, everyone seems to agree that they are privileged to do their part, regardless of how small. All agree that locking them up is a small sacrifice to keep the coronavirus out of their homes, families, and friends. There were 426 positive tests on Day 8 and no contamination from the Olympic bubble.

Dong Jingge, a volunteer worker, misses her grandparents. She has an unglamorous Olympic task: she guards the entrance to a closed-off dining area for Olympic visitors. They are subject to additional health monitoring as they have previously tested positive. She counts them and asks them to clean their hands.

The 21-year old student is excited that her English is improving through these interactions. Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee, was her highlight. He presented her with a small lapel pin made of metal representing the Olympic rings.

Outside the loop, her mother was delighted. Dong shared a photo of the prize and she wrote, "Sounds like a rare opportunity. Dong anticipates that she will spend nearly three months in the loop, as well as the post-loop quarantine, working through the Paralympic Games that follow the Olympics.

Olympic driver Li Hong claims he is living the "dream" of ferrying workers and visitors from various venues during his overnight shift. After two months in bubble, he has been told that he can expect to earn the equivalent of US$80 per daily, which should make it a nice sum when he returns home at the end of February.

He says he is in it for the experience and not the money or the expectation that he might be able to appear good on his application to the Communist Party.

"I told myself that I was over 50. He said, "I should serve my country in my lifetime." It feels great.


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