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Canada Canadian athletes could be affected by Beijing's higher COVID-19 testing threshold

02:06  18 january  2022
02:06  18 january  2022 Source:   cbc.ca

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CBC Sports has learned the Beijing Olympic Committee is using a higher testing threshold for detecting positive COVID-19 cases, making it more challenging for Canadian athletes, especially those who have recently recovered from the virus, to produce a negative test upon arriving in China.

Chief Medical Officer for the Canadian Olympic Committee Dr. Mike Wilkinson confirmed Monday afternoon the CT (Cycle Threshold) value being used in China to detect a positive test is 40.

For context, many places in Canada use 35 as the threshold value — the lower the number, the more infectious someone is. The higher the number, the less infectious the person is.

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"If you're on the border of the CT value, there's no guarantee it'll be positive or negative because of persistent shedding of the virus," Dr. Wilkinson said, referring to those athletes who have recently tested positive.

"I think what Beijing is doing is that they're doing everything they can to ensure they don't have positives coming in.

The NBA and NHL use 30 as their CT value. The NFL has set its threshold at 35.

"Typically, [at] CT numbers of 30 or greater we start to think of people as less infectious. Is it perfect, no, but it's pretty good," Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist, said.

Dr. Bogoch has concerns about how high China has set its threshold for the Games.

"It basically means that anyone with a recent infection has a not-insignificant chance of testing positive in China, even if they've had several negative tests in Canada."

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There have been dozens of Canadian Olympians who have tested positive over the last number of weeks. The Canadian bobsleigh and short track speed skating teams had outbreaks. The women's hockey team have also had a high number of cases.

Figure skating duo Vanessa James and Eric Radford tested positive over Christmas. And a number of Canada's long track speed skaters have also recovered recently from the virus.

Any Games participants, should they recover from COVID-19 30 days or less from departure, have to first produce three negative PCR tests. Those documents are then submitted to the Beijing Olympic Committee. Should the participant be granted approval, two more pre-departure tests, 96 and 72-hours before the flight to Beijing, have to be produced.

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"It sounds like they're treating positive PCRs as positive PCRs and not acknowledging the protective benefit that someone who is recently recovered would have. Greater transparency would be helpful," Dr. Bogoch said.

There's one final hoop for all participants to jump through upon arriving in China, and that's once again producing a negative PCR test at the airport. Should someone test positive and be asymptomatic, they are held in isolation at a hotel nearby.

Two more negative tests are then required to be released into what is being called a "closed loop" system to take part in the Olympics.

Negative at home, positive in Beijing?

Already there are cases where people who have produced the required negative PCR tests in their countries are returning a positive result upon arriving in Beijing.

"If someone had a recent infection, has clear evidence of that and is not transmissible, I would not be concerned with a residual PCR test," Bogoch said.

"It doesn't make sense to test someone in that circumstance or at the very least make an important decision given the circumstance."

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There is a plan in place, according to the IOC, should an athlete who has tested positive and since recovered produce a positive test in China.

A medical expert panel has been made up of 20 members, including representation from the China Centre for Disease Control, the Beijing CDC, and five international representatives of the IOC, IPC and Winter International Federations.

The panel will deal with each case individually. Dr. Wilkinson says the panel is already operating but he has yet to submit documents for a Canadian athlete at this point.

He's preparing for it though.

"It's something we flagged a long time ago as being a source of stress for athletes. Every time you go for a test you have this doubt and anxiety," Dr. Wilkinson said.

"We have to prove that if someone does test positive it's not an acute infection in order to get into China. We've put in a couple of extra tests for Canadians so we can flag anyone early that may be inadvertently testing positive and may not be aware that they've had COVID."

IOC remains confident in protocols

As for the IOC, in a statement to CBC Sports, the organization said it's confident in its protocols as the Games near.

"We draw on the experiences from other international sports events, including the successful Tokyo 2020 Games, and the COVID-19 policy currently in effect in China," the statement said.

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

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Team Canada has lined up a number of charter flights to get athletes and support staff to Beijing. The first flight is scheduled to depart on Jan. 26.

Dr. Wilkinson says the charter was very intentional.

"We're doing everything we can to ensure they get to Beijing. We are working on all the angles to ensure that if they have a false positive or persistent shedding that they get to Beijing. The concern is if you get a new infection within a few days of departing. That's a different story," Dr. Wilkinson said.

"That's why we're telling everyone to be extremely careful in the two weeks prior to leaving. One of the benefits of a charter is that we're in control of the seating plan. So we know what a close contact definition is and how many seats need to be between people."

A close contact is anyone seated two rows ahead or behind the person who tested positive.

"Everyone wants to compete. I get it," Dr. Bogoch said.

"It's important to communicate uncertainty though. Because there is uncertainty and you can't give definitive answers when there's no definitive answers to be given. It's not fair and not honest."

The opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics is slated for Feb. 4.

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