In Australia, the Djokovic affair fuels criticism of the national management of the pandemic

Taking advantage of the procrastination surrounding the case of the world number 1 in tennis, the opposition challenges the government on its decisions in the face of the Covid epidemic, which is blazing in the country.

Hotels transformed into hospitals for lack of beds, train lines at a standstill for lack of drivers, restaurants closed for lack of waiters… The omicron wave continues to wreak havoc in Australia, a country that has long been spared by the Covid-19. In this context, the Djokovic case appears as a way for the Australian government to show its intransigence on health rules. Even as his management of the pandemic is decried.

Gone are the days of donuts, these donuts used on social networks to display “0” and boast of a zero number of new cases of Covid-19, especially in Victoria, the Australian state known to have suffered the most long confinement in the world (262 days). Across the country, the figures are dizzying today: 128,185 new cases reported on Thursday, more than 1.5 million in total and a peak that has still not arrived. Bad for the image, bad for the federal elections scheduled before May 2022. And, in fact, while 65% of Australians polled by the Guardian supported the management of the pandemic by the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, in February 2021, they were only 46% in December.

“Too small and too late”

In the light of the polls, the new cancellation of Novak Djokovic’s visa by the Minister of Immigration, Alex Hawke, on Friday, fueling a saga that has lasted ten days, takes on a political dimension. And in this regard, the Prime Minister’s message is clear: “This pandemic has been incredibly difficult […] but we stuck together and saved lives and jobs. Australians have made a lot of sacrifices and they have a right to expect that the proceeds of those sacrifices will be protected.” There is no doubt that the Newscorp poll published Thursday morning also played a role: 83% of Australians said they wanted Djokovic to leave the country.

However, in Australia, no one is fooled. Senator (Labor, opposition party) Kristina Keneally scolded the head of state: “Mr. Morrison is not able to manage the vaccination program. Not able to handle rapid antigen testing. Not able to manage borders.” Reacting to the cancellation of the visa of the world number 1 on Twitter, she drove the point home: “Djokovic should not even have had this visa at the start. This embarrassing and grotesque incident could have been avoided. Mr Morrison and his ministers always act too small too late.”

On the pandemic side, Australia has lived to the rhythm of sometimes opposing decisions from one state to another in 2020 and much of 2021. But in September, after pursuing an eradication strategy, “Fortress Australia” made the decision to “living with the virus” and of “out of the cave” with the opening of borders as a result. This was without taking into account the omicron variant and its rapid spread.

Out of stock

On January 3, Dan Duan, a doctor from Sydney, warns in the media that “the hospital risks being overwhelmed by a tsunami of patients”. The contact case tracing system can no longer keep up with the pace and the test centers are seeing the queues lengthen for hours. And the results sometimes take more than a week to reach patients.

In an attempt to unclog the centers, the government is relying on rapid antigen tests (RAT) – the number of which has not been provisioned and which quickly experienced stockouts. As for the definition of what a contact case is, it now designates anyone who is exposed to a positive person for four hours. No more question therefore of locking up for fifteen days thousands of supporters who attended the same match as a patient.

Despite these new guidelines, the system is suffering. Essential services stick out their tongues, small businesses too: the shelves are empty. According to the Prime Minister, 10% of workers are sick or in quarantine, which is hampering the smooth running of the country. Hence an evolution of the protocol on Thursday: people with a negative test will be able to work if they are employed by industries such as distribution or transport. No matter the incubation period or the price of the tests. The unions disagree. The population consumes less than expected and goes so far as to self-isolate.

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