Debate over unvaccinated tennis players allowed to play in the Australian Open in January intensified on Wednesday with the Prime Minister and a political head of state exchanging gunshots on points of difference.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has indicated in television interviews that unvaccinated tennis players would be allowed exemptions to enter the country provided they undergo two weeks of hotel quarantine.
Victoria State Premier Daniel Andrews fired back, telling reporters in Melbourne he would not ask for an exemption for unvaccinated players.
Victoria hosts the Australian Open in Melbourne Park and has a mandatory vaccination policy for athletes competing in national leagues. The Andrews government has imposed months of lockdown on residents of Victoria and only begins to reopen after the public has met high targets for the COVID-19 vaccine.
Morrison’s decision on Wednesday to clarify his federal government‘s position on the international border came a week after Immigration Minister Alex Hawke suggested there would be a jab and visa ban policy for players at the Grand Slam event January 17-30.
Morrison said there are exemptions from long-term international border protection rules for some who qualify based on the criteria of skilled workers or economic benefits.
“If there is a special exemption that is justified for an economic reason, well, it can happen,” he told Australian network Nine. “But you have to follow the health rules in this state – and a two-week quarantine for unvaccinated people, well, that makes sense.”
Morrison said the final decision on Australian Open rules is for the state of Victoria, which has a cap on the arrival of unvaccinated people.
Andrews made the point beyond doubt.
“What I want to make clear is that the state of Victoria will not be asking for any exemptions for unvaccinated playersâ¦ Therefore, the problem is essentially solved,” Andrews said, according to the Australian Associated Press. “I’m not going to ask and demand that the people sitting in the grandstand, the people working at the event be vaccinated while the players are not.”
He also did his service to the federal government after the apparent backflip in less than a week.
âI fully agreed with Minister Hawke’s point of view, which I considered the point of view of the federal government and it does not appear to be the case,â Andrews said. “The federal government made a total of 180.”
Australia is preparing to reopen its international borders next month for the first time since early 2020, but it will be a gradual, state-by-state process. People who are fully vaccinated will face fewer restrictions across the country than those who are not.
Tennis stars who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 should be allowed to travel to Australia from December 1 and, after testing negative for the coronavirus, will not have to self-quarantine.
In Morrison’s position, unvaccinated players would face restrictions similar to those in place for the 2021 Australian Open, which included a 14-day hotel quarantine for all players, coaches and officials arriving from the ‘foreigner.
The exchange between Morrison and Andrews followed an email leaked earlier this week from the WTA to its Players Council which suggested that unvaccinated players would likely get a visa but be required to go through two weeks of isolation.
The email said Tennis Australia was still working with the government on the details, but because the state of Victoria was to meet a goal of immunizing 90% of the adult population by next month, “it was confirmed that conditions for players at the Australian Open will improve significantly.
Tennis Australia then said it was “optimistic that we can host the Australian Open as close to pre-pandemic conditions as possible”.
The vaccination debate has raged in tennis since international competition resumed after a worldwide shutdown last year.
Nine-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic is among the players arguing for the decision to be vaccinated to remain a personal choice. He has not confirmed whether or not he is vaccinated against the coronavirus. Others, including Andy Murray, said it should be mandated for the good of the majority.
Both the male and female circuits recommend that all players get vaccinated, but so far they have not enforced it.
Morrison said Australia needed some flexibility to host major events.
“We are going to have one of the highest vaccination rates in the world (…)” We want major events in this country. We want Australia to show the world that we are open, we are going to before. “