Anger has been raged over news that tennis star Novak Djokovic has been given “an exemption” to travel to the Australian Open tournament amid a surge in Covid cases in the country.
The world’s best male player who refused to reveal whether he was vaccinated against Covid, wrote on social media on Tuesday that it had the special permit and was entitled “Down Under”. The statement ended months of uncertainty about his participation due to Australia’s strict Covid-19 vaccination regulations.
Among the most prominent critics was a visibly angry Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who said Wednesday that Djokovic should not receive special treatment when entering the country, which has some of the strictest border restrictions in the world and has only allowed some international travel since November.
“He must provide acceptable evidence that he cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons in order to take advantage of the same travel arrangements as fully vaccinated travelers,” Morrison said at a press conference on Wednesday. “If that evidence isn’t enough, he won’t be treated any differently from anyone else and he’ll fly home on the next plane.”
“Novak Djokovic shouldn’t have any special rules at all. None,” he added.
This, however Comments came after Morrison said earlier in the day that the decision to grant Djokovic an exemption was in the hands of the government of Victoria, the state where the tournament will be held.
Tennis Australia and the Victorian state government said Djokovic was one of a “handful” of successful applicants among 26 people who applied for a vaccination exemption but received no special treatment in the anonymous application process, according to Reuters.
The state government of Victoria has ordered that all players, staff and fans competing in the Australian Open, which begins January 17, must be fully vaccinated unless there is a real reason why an exemption is granted should be.
It was not immediately clear which exemption Djokovic was calling for or whether the central government would actually intervene in this case. The country’s head of state and interior ministry did not respond to requests for comment.
The Australian Open is taking place in Melbourne, which has spent more time under Covid-19 bans than most other cities in the world.
British tennis colleague Jamie Murray seemed to question Djokovic’s exception.
“I think if I wasn’t vaccinated I wouldn’t get an exception,” he said, according to Reuters. “But it was well done that it became clear to him to come to Australia and compete.”
The Australians, meanwhile, reacted with anger on social media to Djokovic’s post that he was on his way to their country.
“It is incredible to get a ‘special medical commission’ exemption to play tennis here when thousands of Australians have been denied access to loved ones, dying family members, etc. over the past two years.” wrote Twitter users Alan Birrell in response to Djokovic’s tweet.
Others said Djokovic’s time off meant they would be out of the tournament.
“We all did the right thing, we all went out and got our jabs and our boosters,” said Christine Wharton of Melbourne of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “I think it’s an absolute shame and I won’t watch it.”
Australia, once the pioneer of a “zero covid strategy” to deal with the pandemic, recorded a total of over 612,000 cases with a population of 25.7 million. More than 91 percent of Australians aged 16 and over have received two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine.
But cases have exploded in the country in recent weeks, from more than 1,000 a day in early December to over 64,000 on Wednesday. This has resulted in long lines in publicly funded test centers.
Djokovic was first nine times at the Australian Open.
Associated press contributed.