Djokovic’s medical exemption to play Australian Open stirs outrage

Sydney, Australia, Jan 5 (EFE).- The medical exemption from Covid-19 vaccination requirements granted to world No. 1 tennis player Novak Djokovic to defend his title at the Australian Open has caused outrage in the country.

The tournament requires proof of vaccination against Covid-19, and Djokovic has repeatedly refused to publicly reveal his vaccination status, so he was not expected to compete.

In a post on Instagram on Tuesday, the Serbian player announced he was on his way to Australia to play.

“I’ve spent fantastic quality time with my loved ones over the break and today I’m heading Down Under with an exemption permission. Let’s go 2022!!” he wrote.

There are a handful of reasons that an exemption can be granted, including an acute major medical condition such as undergoing a major surgery, a serious adverse event attributed to a previous dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, or evidence of infection confirmed by PCR test in the previous six months.

Stephen Parnis, a Melbourne emergency physician and former vice-president of the Australian Medical Association, said the granting of the exemption was an “appalling” decision.

“I don’t care how good a tennis player he is. If he’s refusing to get vaccinated, he shouldn’t be allowed in,” he wrote on Twitter. “If this exemption is true, it sends an appalling message to millions seeking to reduce #COVID19Aus risk to themselves & others. #Vaccination shows respect, Novak.”

Australian Football League great Kevin Bartlett in a tweet said that the public has “been taken for fools.”

Racing broadcaster Shane Anderson wrote on Twitter: “Australians couldn’t get exemptions to attend funerals, visit people in hospital, nursing or aged care homes. Spent months in lockdown. Jobs lost. But a healthy elite sportsperson gets a ‘medical exemption’ to compete at the Australian Open.”

Australia has implemented some of the toughest measures in the world against the pandemic, and Melbourne, where the tournament takes place between Jan. 17-30, has spent lengthy periods in strict lockdown.

Open organizer Tennis Australia defended Djokovic’s participation by assuring that his exemption was the result of a rigorous process carried out by two independent panels of medical experts and in line with government guidelines.

The organizers also indicated that the personal medical information provided by the applicants is confidential and it was up to Djokovic to disclose the reasons for his exemption, which would be encouraged.

“Expect boos – long, loud and sustained in their disgust – from those who just have to let fly with their frustration and fury,” columnist Neil McMahon warned in an opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Sports journalist Matt Walsh tweeted: “Whoever knocks Djokovic out of the #AusOpen may never need to buy a beer in Australia ever again.”

The Australian Open, which in the last edition imposed a two-week quarantine on tennis players, is held amid a rise in Covid-19 infections, going from almost 212,000 accumulated cases on Dec. 1 to more half a million this week. EFE


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