A figure skating reporter in China.... | Golden Skate

A figure skating reporter in China....


Record Breaker
Dec 4, 2004
Wall street Journal May 28 2022 “Testing positive in Zero-Covid China

Millions of people around the world have had Covid-19 in the last two years. I’m one of a small number of Americans to have had it in zero-Covid China, and with it a taste of a public-health approach that has, over the past two years, locked down large swaths of the world’s most populous nation for weeks and even months at a time.

I tested positive 19 hours after arriving in Beijing on Feb. 4 to cover figure skating at the 2022 Olympic Games. Under U.S. protocols I would simply have secluded myself in my hotel room. In China, after five days of resistance, I was marched by two strangers into an elevator whose floor was slick with sanitizer, through a lobby cordoned off with yellow police tape, and into an ambulance that would take me to an isolation facility for open-ended detention. As soon as the ambulance door slammed shut, I heard the sound of more sanitizer spraying.

The tactics I experienced at the Games in Beijing, now in full force in Shanghai and other cities, are drastically different from the way most of the world is handling Covid. Instead of allowing people who test positive to shelter in place, Chinese policies call for centralized isolation. Authorities argue this is essential to ensure that infectious people don’t spread the virus to others. But transferring people is logistically and politically fraught, and also carries significant transmission risks.

The rules call for the hospitalization of anyone with any symptom of Covid, no matter how minor, threatening to overwhelm healthcare systems. Chinese anti-Covid measures focus on the exceptionally low risk of surface transmission of the virus, creating logistical nightmares and coming at the expense of more effective mitigation measures. And the definition of a positive Covid test may be the strictest in the world, making isolations potentially indefinite.

This approach was sustainable when applied to a sealed Olympic bubble of 75,000 people, at most, for little more than a month. When the Chinese government tried to scale up its zero-Covid tactics to a population of 1.4 billion, however, the policy buckled, and the whole country—and global supply chain—is experiencing the fallout. Lockdowns in cities like Shanghai have dragged on and on. Food shortages are a real threat. Children have been separated from their parents after testing positive. Disinfection obsessions have led to the closure of emergency rooms and people dying after being turned away, even as healthy people with inconclusive Covid statuses have been herded onto buses with infectious cases. Now the virus is threatening to lock down the capital, Beijing.

Athletes, officials and journalists who traveled to Beijing for the Olympics dreaded the possibility of testing positive there. The prospect of isolation facilities was grim, but the difficulty of getting out of them was worse. Covid testing involves the use of thresholds, known as “Ct values,” that essentially represent the level of magnification required to detect the presence of virus. A higher threshold is more sensitive than a lower threshold. The standard in some professional sports leagues is 30. China initially planned to consider any Ct value under 40 as a positive test. Just before the Games, standards were relaxed slightly, placing Ct results between 35 and 40 in a kind of virus purgatory.

Organizers say they intercepted 284 positive cases at the airport. I was not among them. After a three-day multi-stop journey from Washington, D.C., I covered a figure-skating event, took my daily Covid screening test at 7 p.m., had dinner and went to bed. While I slept, my boss—whose duties included acting as “Covid-19 Liaison Officer” between our company and the myriad authorities overseeing Covid protocols at the Olympics—received a 1:11 a.m. email from the public health leader for the Beijing Fujian Hotel.

“Hello sir!,” it began. “The situation is LOUISE RADNOFSKY had do her daily PCR test at 7 p.m. last night, her N gene CT value is 33.39, ORF1ab gene CT value is 32.55, Is it okay that if we according to the epidemic prevention regulations and transfer her to the main quarantine hotel?”

I drank enormous quantities of water and ate honey packets that colleagues dropped off outside my door.

I was now one of the 179 people who would test positive inside the closed loop of the Olympics—something I confirmed with a rapid test of my own. My boss negotiated frantically with public-health officials at the hotel to prevent my being transferred to central isolation. I launched a campaign to mask anything that might have been interpreted as a Covid symptom; I didn’t want to be in a medical facility to treat a sore throat. I drank enormous quantities of water and ate honey packets that colleagues dropped off outside my door. Using a kettle and a bottle of whiskey, I tried to home-brew a prophylactic cough syrup.

My fate turned on the Ct values, and a testing regime that was both rigid and imprecise. I was given the choice of a nasal or throat swab and picked throat, then swore off coffee and juice out of fear they might contaminate my oral sample in a way that hurt my numbers. I brushed my teeth an hour before each test in case it might help.

When my numbers improved, Chinese officials disputed their own tests. “Our nucleic acid testing team informed us that she did not actively cooperate with this morning’s nucleic acid testing,” they reported. “We believe this may be the reason for the inaccurate test results this morning.”

I was being accused of “ducking” the swab, because the testers had needed three attempts to get a sample. I had thought they were being thorough. It was clear that we had strained our hosts’ patience. “We have started the transfer process, please inform her to pack her bags,” the hotel public-health official wrote after my results came back on Feb. 9.

“Please don’t get upset,” I was told as I gathered supplies. “You are just moving to a random hotel.”

Deliveries were effectively impossible but boxed meals arrived punctually in plastic bags soggy from disinfection spray.

The ambulance took me to the Hotel Rooy, a business hotel outside the closed loop of the Beijing Olympics. Many Covid-positive Olympians found themselves in bleaker conditions. Deliveries were effectively impossible but boxed meals arrived punctually in plastic bags soggy from disinfection spray, as I wrote about figure skating by watching the streamed feed of the competition.

Under the revised rules for the Olympics, I could leave isolation on a kind of parole status if I had three straight days of Ct values above 35—a negative test to most, but a “threshold positive” in China. I achieved this on my third day in the isolation facility, eight days after first testing positive. The public-health officials there were ready to book me a taxi.

But somebody else was refusing to sign off. My colleagues determined that it was a higher-ranking official in the public-health hierarchy, who saw the rules differently. In the interim, my test results dipped again, meaning I would have to start over anyway. I panicked inside my room, then opened the window and screamed.

I wasn’t the only person in detention without a clear idea of when or how I would be released, or who was deciding. Olympic officials and diplomats were scrambling for a way to free people who were no longer infectious but might not be able to clear the results bar for weeks. Eventually, they found it: I would be released on the understanding that I would head straight to the airport—assuming I could get through the red tape to do that.

A 15-minute telemedicine appointment was all I needed to get a “certificate of recovery” indicating that I was cleared to re-enter the U.S. according to the standards of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, because by then it had been 10 days since I first tested positive for Covid. It was a bigger problem that China only allowed a few commercial flights in or out of Beijing each day, and they did not all appear in official booking systems. At an Air China desk in the press center, my boss bought me a ticket to Japan after being explicitly promised that I would not be quarantined again while trying to transfer to a U.S.-bound flight at Narita Airport in Tokyo.

“She will not be like Tom Hanks in ‘The Terminal,’” the Air China agent told him.

With the ticket to leave, things changed. On day 11 after I first tested positive a new Covid test was quickly arranged, and a few hours later a piece of paper was slipped under my door. It had no Ct values—just the word “negative.”

There was still one last knot to unpick to board that plane. China required a “health declaration” for exit. It asked two questions that were hard to answer: “Has your community reported any Covid-19 cases during the past 14 days?” and “Have you tested for Covid-19 during the past 14 days? If yes, is the result positive?”

Answering yes seemed to jeopardize my chances of leaving China while it was still February. Answering no seemed to risk a penalty of three years in prison if my declaration were considered

“Just be confident,” my boss told me as I rode in a cab to the airport the next morning with two irreconcilable documents: a negative test certificate and a QR code for the exit declaration that was a menacing red. “Polite but persistent.”

The airport worker’s eyes indicated concern at the QR code. Then she led me to a booth with an electronic version of the questions on a screen and directed me to change my “yes” answers to “no.”

Heart now fully thumping, I asked if she was sure this was correct—and fervently hoped we were being filmed. She insisted that “community” was small, “like a building,” and I didn’t think it wise to tell her that my “building” must have housed most of the known Covid cases in Beijing. I was too distracted by what she said next about my Covid status.

“Today,” she said, “you are negative.”

Write to Louise Radnofsky at [email protected]

Appeared in the May 28, 2022, print edition as 'Testing Positive in Zero-Covid China'.


Record Breaker
Dec 4, 2004
I have emailed the author but of course she is big time and probably got lots of emails.....I hope Vincent saw this and at some point decides to tell his side of the story. I cant imagine what he went through if he had no access to Team USA docs and no access us drugs. And not knowing if he was really positive. My one remaining last sister(65 years young) just got covid and was able to get pax right away and is doing fine. She is vaxed and double boosted.