Game over for Novak’s anti-vaccine serve - GulfToday

Game over for Novak’s anti-vaccine serve

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.


Supporters of Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic rally outside the Park Hotel, where the star athlete is believed to be held, in Melbourne. File/Reuters

Three Federal Court judges put an end to a two-week media feast by cancelling a visa for Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic who had set his cap at winning another victory in the Australian Open beginning today in Melbourne. He lost his appeal against deportation because he failed to comply with the country’s entry requirement of vaccination against COVID-19 and could set a bad example for Australians who hesitate or refuse to get the jab. After deportation he could be banned from returning to Australia for three years. Consternation due to confusion over his status followed the original decision of airport immigration officials to deport him because he did not present a credible medical exemption which would have allowed him to compete in the tournament. He said he had tested positive on December 16th but could not show he had the disease and recovered, earning him a viable medical exemption.

On the 17th, when he should have been isolating after his positive test, he met a group of schoolchildren and on the 18th he was interviewed by a French journalist. He also travelled from Serbia to Spain in the 14 days before landing in Australia but did not mention this on his visa application as required. Since he took no notice of the risk of infecting others or knew his positive test was dubious, he apparently believed his celebrity as the world’s number one would ensure he gained entry and played in the competition, which he won nine times. He was counting on a tenth triumph. Instead of departing in glory, Djokovic has been humbled and lost his status as a role model for the young due to questionable behaviour.

Djokovic is in high-profile company this past week because Britain’s Prince Andrew and Prime Minister Boris Johnson have also been brought down by their arrogant entitlement, Prince Andrew for associating with US trafficker in minor girls Jeffrey Epstein and Johnson for repeatedly partying during strict COVID lockdown.

After Djokovic spent several days in quarantine in a detention hotel, a Victoria State judge dismissed the entry ban and he was able to resume training. However, Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke cancelled his visa for a second time on public health grounds, arguing that the star’s visa posed a danger to Australians who could mount mass protests against his presence or prompt anti-vaccination activists to renew demonstrations against jab requirements. Both could risk spreading Covid at a time cases are rising.

For many months Australians living or travelling abroad were refused the right to return home or to leave the country while residents of Melbourne endured the most frequent and longest lockdowns of any city in the world: a total of 262 days between March 2020 and October 2021. While there have not been further lockdowns, Covid continues to infect Australians in Victoria state – with more than 240,000 active cases and multiple deaths – as well as elsewhere. Nearly 95 per cent of Victorians aged 12 and above have had one vaccine dose, 94 per cent have had two doses and 22 per cent a booster.

While vaccine hesitancy fell dramatically last year, rejectionism has increased recently and is seen as a threat to both the vaccinated and unvaccinated.

When Djokovic won the February 2021 Australian Open, the global vaccination campaign was just beginning and his refusal to vaccinate was not a problem as authorities everywhere were focusing on first responders, the elderly, and people with chronic conditions. Since then he has had many months to join the millions of people who have been jabbed but he has refused. All the other singles players in the tournament have been vaccinated. Seventy-seven per cent of Australians consulted in a poll said he should be deported.

The saga of Djokovic’s confrontation with the Australian government has made him a champion of the anti-vaxxers whose movement seems to have gained ground in Serbia, his home country where only 50 per cent of people have been vaccinated. To make matters worse, Serbian health care per- sonnel interviewed by the BBC said the number of Serbians getting jabs on a daily basis has fallen by 30-40 per cent. Nevertheless, the Serbian government has championed Djokovic’s efforts to gain admission to Australia turning a health issue into a national cause.

As an athlete, Djokovic rejects Covid vaccination for health reasons. Playing tennis is his profession and job and he does not want to inject medication which he fears could jeopardise his career.

The majority of vaccine hesitants are, however, either ignorant or self-centred. Some argue the Covid vaccines have been developed too quickly, without wide enough trials, and could deal harm to those who receive them. While some are ignorantly afraid of the jab and could be persuaded by intelligent argument, others use refusal of vaccinations to declare their independence and argue that the authorities cannot impose substances they put into their bodies.

Global hardline anti-science anti-vaxxers operate on social media and offline. They include those who refuse vaccinations for measles, chickenpox, polio and other infectious diseases, putting at risk entire communities, especially schoolchildren and pregnant women. As a result, there have, for example, been deadly measles outbreaks across the US where vaccines are available as well in in developing countries where health care is poor. Dedicated anti-vaxxers rely on fake news, superstition, and phoney miracle treatments which can be harmful. For Covid, ivermectin, a veterinary medicine to rid animals of parasites, has been recommended despite its failure to conquer Covid.

In the West, Covid vaccination refusal has become an aspect of the culture wars raging between right-wingers and cranks, on one hand, and the moderate centre and left, on the other. In Africa, West Asia, Asia, and Latin America vaccination roll-outs have been slow and limited the number of people who have been jabbed, leaving billions unprotected and enabling Covid to mutate and infect the rest of the world with new variants for which there may not be vaccinations.

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