Polish skater cried in back of ambulance amid confusion over isolation

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BEIJING, Feb 7 (Reuters) - A Polish short track speed skater recalled on Monday "crying like crazy" in the back of an ambulance after a 3 a.m. knock on the door of her isolation hotel room at the Winter Games by employees wearing cameras on their belts.

Natalia Maliszewska, 26, described a "traumatic" experience, during which she said she was ruled in and out of the Games several times due to conflicting COVID-19 test results, in an interview with Reuters after finally being cleared to compete.

"I was sitting in the ambulance. It was 3am. I was crying like crazy because I didn't know what was going on. I did not feel safe at all," she said.

Protests about isolation conditions and protocols have piled up in Beijing with athletes complaining about the food, their mental health, testing and confusing procedures around being allowed to leave.

The coach of the Finland men's ice hockey team on Sunday accused China of not respecting the human rights of Marko Anttila, saying the ninth-round Chicago Blackhawks draft pick was "not getting good food" and was under tremendous mental stress. read more

More than 350 Games participants, including dozens of athletes, have tested positive on arrival in the Chinese capital since Jan. 23. They are supposed to leave special quarantine hotels only once they are free of symptoms and test negative in two PCR tests 24 hours apart.

International Olympic Committee Sport Director Kit McConnell on Monday said the isolation of athletes was a top priority.

He added that the IOC had held a call with Olympic officials from countries represented at the Games to understand the issues the athletes were facing.

"The athletes in isolation remain an absolute focus. There is a collective responsibility to support these athletes," he told a news conference. "That's not easy for anyone in that situation. We absolutely understand."

"There are still some individual circumstances which are challenging."


The 26-year-old Maliszewska told Reuters she was rushed out of her isolation hotel in the ambulance in the early hours of Saturday morning.

"They had told me at midnight that I could go out and five minutes later that I could not," she said. "They told me there's so many politics stuff that you will not understand. It's China."

She said she tested positive again, but nevertheless was told she was allowed to train for the evening heats of the 500 metres - a discipline in which she is ranked third in the world.

"Then I got the message like half hour before I was going to warm up that they made a mistake, like the organisation made the mistake and I cannot compete because I'm dangerous to people," she said.

She said she was tested again on Saturday evening and received a negative result the next morning.

"I don't believe all those tests now," she said. "I want explanations from the people who made me feel not safe, because nobody is saying anything now. They're silent."


On Sunday, Finnish ice hockey head coach Jukka Jalonen said Anttila was no longer infectious, according to the team doctor, but continued to be kept in COVID-19 isolation after testing positive 18 days ago.

"We know that he's fully healthy and ready to go and that's why we think that China, for some reason, they won't respect his human rights and that's not a great situation," Jalonen said on a Zoom call with media.

A pair of Australian curlers earned a reprieve after being told earlier that one of them had returned a series of positive tests and would be placed in isolation. read more

Germany's team chief Dirk Schimmelpfennig said organisers had taken to steps to improve the isolation conditions for triple Olympic gold medallist Eric Frenzel and two other German athletes that he had earlier called "unacceptable".

Swedish journalist Philip Gadd was whisked off to isolation in an ambulance when he arrived in Beijing on Wednesday.

"It was a really terrifying experience and it just felt like ... it didn't feel real. It felt like as if I was in a movie, a sci-fi movie or something," he told Reuters in a Zoom interview from his quarantine hotel. read more

Reporting by Steve Keating, Julien Pretot, Ilze Fiks, Philip O'Connor and Karolos Grohmann in Beijing; Writing by Leela de Kretser; Editing by Ken Ferris and Clare Fallon

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