Beijing Olympics’ top doctor defends stricter COVID testing as necessary protection


The chairman of the Beijing 2022 medical expert group defends the strict protocols in place for participants in the Olympics in China, necessary to reduce the risk of spread during the Games.

Dr. Brian McCloskey told CBC Sports on Friday that protocols had picked up more positive cases in arrivals to Beijing than at a similar time for the Tokyo Olympics in July, which he said is expected and what they are designed to do.

“It is about detecting people who could be contagious and could enter the [Athletes] Village and cause a problem,” he said. “And now we have to figure out how we deal with those cases and get as many people as possible into the Games, and as many people as safely possible.”

The official opening of the Olympics is scheduled for February 4.

WATCH | IOC medical expert discusses strict COVID-19 protocols for Beijing 2022:

IOC medical expert on COVID-19 testing and protocols at Beijing 2022

CBC Sports’ Devin Heroux is joined by Beijing 2022 Medical Panel Chairman Dr. Brian McCloskey for the latest on on-field COVID-19 testing procedures and protocols ahead of the Winter Olympics of Beijing 2022. 9:29

The Beijing Olympic Committee has set a higher sensitivity threshold for COVID-19 testing than the number used by Canadian health standards. The cycle threshold (Ct) value used in China to detect an infection is 40, compared to 35 in many places in Canada. The higher the Ct value, the less contagious a person with COVID-19 is.

Dr McCloskey said the threshold number used for these Games was established in partnership between the IOC and the Beijing Olympic Committee based on months-long conversations and based on what officials learned in Tokyo.

A medical worker sprays disinfectant on test samples taken from people at a mobile coronavirus testing facility in a residential area of ​​Beijing. (Associated Press)

Evolutionary procedure

“There are obviously differences in how each country deals with the coronavirus. So we evolved it. Even last week we exchanged scientific papers with our colleagues in China to make sure we understand the evidence behind the way testing is done,” McCloskey said.

“We use a standard PCR test, which is an international standard approved by the World Health Organization. Each laboratory sets its own standards in terms of Ct values, but these are consistent across the world.”

Any athlete or participant in the Games who has tested positive in the last 30 days, however, is in a precarious situation with this higher threshold. Participants are required to provide five negative PCR tests before being allowed to fly to China.

If someone tests positive on arrival, they will be isolated until they can produce two negative test results.

WATCH l China’s COVID-19 testing threshold could prevent athletes from competing:

China’s COVID-19 testing threshold could prevent some athletes from competing in the Olympics

Just days before the departure of hundreds of athletes, coaches and staff for the Beijing Winter Olympics, CBC News has learned that the threshold for COVID-19 testing in China is so high that it could prevent some athletes from competing – even if they have already been cleared. the virus. 2:54

If there is any ambiguity in the results – for example, two negatives then one positive – a 20-person panel of medical experts will make an assessment of infectivity based on CT values, vaccination history and other factors.

The panel includes representatives from the Chinese Center for Disease Control, Beijing CDC and five international representatives from the IOC, International Paralympic Committee and International Winter Federations.

“We’re trying to make this very fine-grained judgment based on the best science we can find. But none of that science is absolutely clear, because we don’t know that much about the coronavirus yet,” said the Dr McCloskey.

He said that while the panel can make a recommendation, the final decision will be made by Chinese authorities.

McCloskey said Chinese athletes and everyone else entering the Olympic closed-loop system are subject to the same testing protocols.

“But it’s also important to remember that athletes who live in China probably have one of the lowest rates of coronavirus around them than anyone in the world,” Dr McCloskey said.

“So they’re much less likely to test positive than someone traveling from say the UK or Canada, where Omicron has been everywhere for a few weeks.”

China, with a population of 1.4 billion, had 136,577 cases of COVID-19 as of Jan. 20, according to the World Health Organization. Canada, with 38 million people, has nearly 3 million active cases.

Dr McCloskey said the decrease in protocols in some parts of the world – such as the reduction of isolation periods to five days – has not influenced the situation in Beijing.

“Our risk tolerance is probably a bit lower than it would be for many national governments, as national governments try to balance keeping the economy going and getting the workforce in, etc. ., against the risk of infection,” he said. “We are trying to manage the risk of infection and make sure it doesn’t enter and spread through the village.”

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