Tennis causes tensions with Australians stranded by COVID-19
SYDNEY —As top tennis stars descended on Melbourne for the upcoming grand slam, many Australians questioned the decision to host the tournament when thousands of citizens are stranded overseas due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Australia has halved the number of people who can return to the country each week as positive coronavirus cases in hotel quarantine rise, prompting airline Emirates to indefinitely suspend flights to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
Australians questioned how the government could make room for 1,200 tennis players and their entourages for next month’s Australian Open, but not its own citizens.
“If you want to come to Australia during a pandemic you have to be a sports star, movie celebrity or a billionaire media tycoon,” said user Daniel Bleakley on Twitter, using the hashtag #strandedAussies. “Citizenship and an Australian passport alone are not enough.”
Others said the funds used to host the tournament could have been diverted to boost hotel quarantine facilities and healthcare systems to help bring back stranded Aussies.
The tensions highlight the challenges facing Olympic Games host Japan, with public opinion largely against the event scheduled from July 23-Aug. 8 in Tokyo.
A survey this month found 80% of Japanese want the games either canceled or delayed as worries mount about a record surge in coronavirus cases across the country.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga however vowed on Monday to forge ahead with Olympic preparations.
‘TIME TO BE SELFISH’
Officials in Australia’s Victoria state, home to the Open, said hosting the tournament did not disadvantage about 40,000 stranded Australians.
“No one has been set aside coming from other jurisdictions into Victoria by virtue of the Australian Open going ahead,” said Brett Sutton, Victoria’s chief medical officer. “They are separate decisions that are made upon their own merits.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a radio interviewer that no Australian was being prevented from coming home because of the Grand Slam.
The comments come amid calls to cancel the tournament.
“It’s time to be selfish, time for Victoria to put ourselves first,” 3AW radio broadcaster Neil Mitchell said. “Call off the Australian Open. It’s not worth the risk.”
An opposition leader in Victoria’s state parliament, Tim Smith, accused Premier Daniel Andrews of double standards, urging him to “bring the Victorians home or cancel the Open”.
Australia, which has managed the coronavirus better than many other nations through targeted lockdowns and high rates of testing and contact tracing, reported zero local COVID-19 cases on Monday.
But the head of the health department warned Australia may not fully reopen its international borders this year.
“Even if we have a lot of the population vaccinated, we don’t know whether that will prevent transmission of the virus,” Brendan Murphy told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
Australia has reported nine positive COVID-19 results associated with tennis, prompting authorities to send three Australian Open charter flights into hard quarantine and forcing more than 70 players into 14-day hotel room isolation.
The country has recorded more than 22,000 local COVID-19 cases and 909 deaths since the pandemic began.
Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg reiterated on Monday the government was committed to bringing back its citizens.
“We, as the federal government, are working to help more Australians get back home,” he told reporters, adding that 446,000 had returned since the pandemic began in March.
The government on Saturday announced an additional 20 flights to bring back stranded Aussies, saying they would not be counted within existing traveler caps.
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