How Beijing residents are taking a ‘closed-loop’ Winter Olympics

The Beijing Winter Games are halfway through and the mood in the host city, the first to have hosted both a Summer and Winter Olympics, is mixed for most residents who cannot attend the competitions held in a rigidly pandemic-preventative “closed loop”.

Alex Acker, an expat in Beijing for both Games, is showing the event at his Jing-A craft brewery branches but he says the 2008 Beijing Summer Games had felt like “a huge party” and saw the Chinese capital “really coming into its own”.

He believes that while Beijing residents are still excited for the Winter Games, it is “obviously muted due to COVID and not being able to go to events or mix with fans and athletes from around the world”.

Mathieu Herout, who owns a sports bar, was more downbeat, saying that while he had a “good crowd” for the opening ceremony, only a “handful of people come and watch the competitions”.

There is “no comparison” between 2008 and 2022, he said, adding that many of his employees remember “foreign spectators, staff, crews and athletes would come and party” 14 years ago.

“We have none of this this year, given the health and safety measures,” added Herout.

The mood between the two events is “starkly different”, said Asher Gillespie, who owns a pizza place near some of Beijing’s top ice rinks, where he spent years in Beijing’s evolving hockey scene as a local recreational league player.

Gillespie recalled throngs of tourists and staff descending on Beijing in 2008 for sightseeing, watching the events, dining and enjoying the nightlife.

For many who did not have tickets to attend the Bird’s Nest, Water Cube or other Olympic venues, sports bars and restaurants were an alternative, and Gillespie said many in his industry hoped 2022 would be similar.

“Obviously everything changed with COVID,” Gillespie said.

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