Through tears, Kim Meylemans explained how she had thought her nightmare was over.
Meylemans, a skeleton racer from Belgium, had only recently returned to competition after a bout with the coronavirus in early January when she departed for Beijing on Sunday. A dozen negative tests in the weeks before her departure for the Winter Olympics had reassured her that her recovery had come just in time.
So Meylemans was stunned to learn that she had tested positive upon arrival, and frustrated when she was quickly moved into an isolation hotel. What happened next shook her.
In a tearful video posted on Instagram, Meylemans related how she thought she had been told by the Chinese authorities that she would be allowed to return to the Olympic Village to complete her isolation, only to be ferried to another facility and yet more isolation.
Breathing hard and appearing bewildered, Meylemans said she was unsure if she would be fit to compete. Even Belgian Olympic officials had not been told where she was being taken, she suggested. “I ask you all to give me some time to consider my next steps, because I’m not sure I can handle 14 more days and the Olympic competition while being in this isolation,” she said.
Relief came quickly. Hours after her video had spread widely on social media, Meylemans posted a new video in which she said she had received a knock on the door at 11:35 p.m. from officials who promptly escorted her to the Olympic Village.
Still, her case underscored the discomfort and confusion that many athletes, journalists and other visitors had expressed before the Games in China, which is enforcing strict measures as part of a so-called zero-Covid strategy. Those rules have frequently led to confusion, concern and — in the case of Meylemans — fear.
“This is the problem we said there would be from the beginning,” said Rob Koehler, the director general Global Athlete, an advocacy group. “No one knew what to expect.”
The International Olympic Committee, which had been negotiating with the Chinese authorities to reduce the trigger value for Games participants to return a negative test, said in a statement that it had learned of Meylemans’s case after she was released. It said she had been treated in accordance with the rules for close contacts in the so-called Olympics playbooks that govern Covid protocols for the Games. (Several New York Times journalists attending the Games have been subjected to the same restrictions, which require them to eat and travel alone while they work.) The decision to move Meylemans to a second isolation facility, the I.O.C. said, had been simply a matter of available space.
“Close contacts can train and compete, live in the Olympic Village, but need to be in a single room, transported alone and need to eat alone,” the I.O.C. said.
When Olympic officials were informed of Meylemans’s “difficult situation,” the I.O.C. said, they moved quickly to arrange a single room for her in the Olympic Village.
Once inside, a visibly relieved Meylemans was soon back online, posting a series of Instagram stories while reclining in bed. She thanked friends for their concern and Belgian Olympic officials for their help. “At least I’m back in the village,” she said. “I feel safe.”