On Thursday morning, one of the Tennis world’s top players, Novak Djokovic was detained at Melbourne Airport after Australia announced that it had cancelled his entry visa following an outcry over his controversial “medical exemption” from the country’s coronavirus vaccination rules.
Australian prime minister Scott Morrison addressing the media said he “didn’t have a valid medical exemption” to the vaccination requirement for all arrivals.
“Entry with a visa requires double vaccination or a medical exemption,” Morrison said. “I am advised that such an exemption was not in place, and as a result, he is subject to the same rules as everyone else.”
“There are many visas granted, if you have a visa and you’re double vaccinated you’re very welcome to come here,” he added. “But if you’re not double vaccinated and you’re not an Australian resident or citizen, well, you can’t come.”
As most mull whether the Serbian, who is also chasing a record of 22 Grand Slams at the Australian Open, will be allowed to play, we take a look at the Australian COVID-19 curbs, which has been one of the strictest across the world.
What’s the Djokovic issue?
On 4 January, the world champion announced that he had received a ‘medical exemption’ and was on his way to Melbourne to participate in the Australian Open.
Tennis Australia, the organising of the Australian Open, had drafted a set of rules back in November, which mandated that all staff members, players and even those in attendance at the event must be vaccinated against coronavirus or have a medical exemption granted by an independent panel of experts.
The rules had specified that medical exemptions could be granted on these grounds:
• Inflammatory cardiac illness in the last three months
• Undergoing major surgery or hospital admission for a serious illness
• A COVID-19 diagnosis that means vaccination cannot be made for six months
• Any serious effect to a COVID-19 vaccine in the past
• If the vaccine is a risk to themselves or others during the vaccination process
• Underlying developmental or mental health disorders
The fact that Djokovic, who is known for his stance against vaccines, received a medical exemption was met with fury from Australian locals.
Many questioned why he was granted the exemption. “I think it’s a disgrace,” Melbourne resident Christine Wharton told ABC. “We’ve all done the right thing, we’ve all gone out and got our jabs and our boosters and we have someone that has come from overseas and all of a sudden he’s been exempt and can play.”
Another person added: “After everything that Victorians have been through, Novak Djokovic getting a vaccine exemption is nothing short of a kick in the guts. All those lockdowns, all that suffering. Seriously?”
Elsewhere another person said: “Watching the Australian Open every January is my favourite sports viewing. The decision to allow Novak Djokovic to participate when he’s unvaccinated means I must boycott your telecast this year. Utterly appalled by this.”
COVID-19 rules in Australia
The public outcry in Australia over Djokovic’s entrance to the country isn’t surprising.
People in Melbourne endured a long and strict lockdown to bring cases under control in 2020. In fact, the lockdown in Melbourne was the world’s longest — at 262 days and was lifted only in October 2021.
According to reports, the curbs prevented people from flying in or out of Australia. The website of the Home Affairs of the Australian government stated, “Australia’s borders are currently closed and international travel from Australia remains strictly controlled to help prevent the spread of COVID-19,” and that “International travel from Australia is only available if you are exempt or you have been granted an individual exemption.”
Access to venues including cafes, bars and gyms were restricted; moreover, there were also rules in place on how many people were allowed at a person’s house. People weren’t allowed to attend work too.
It was only in December 2021, that Australia allowed Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate families (including parents) to travel in and out of the country.
The rules stated that all inbound travellers must be fully vaccinated to enter Australia, unless an exemption applies. It also added that inbound passengers must provide a negative COVID-19 RT-PCR test, taken three days prior to the flight.
On 15 December, the borders also reopened to overseas students and skilled migrant workers.
Australia’s rising cases
The country on 6 January saw another day of rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalisations. The country reported 72,000 cases, up from 64,000 a day earlier, while hospitalisations jumped to 3,267 from 2,990 and patients in intensive care rose to 208 from 196.
Victoria state recorded six deaths and 21,997 new cases, the biggest daily jump in cases since the pandemic began.
Queensland reported more than 10,000 cases as health officials warned that many more undetected cases were likely spreading in the community.
New South Wales saw 34,994 new cases, slightly down from the record number of 35,054 on Wednesday.
With inputs from agencies