The story of Novak Djokovic in Melbourne for the Australian Open is a perfect cameo of this country’s management of COVID-19.
The world’s No.1 tennis player has made a brief but high-profile appearance in a drama that two years ago Australians were told could run for some months.
Djokovic is a character in Australia’s COVID-19 drama. First told by the Victorian government he could come to Australia, he was then told by the federal government that he couldn’t. He ended up arriving at Melbourne Airport to be detained, allegedly by armed guards.
The buck passing and responsibility shifting between the state and federal governments that’s characterised the last two years has been in evidence again. Just as it is when it comes to deciding who is accountable for providing sufficient numbers of COVID-19 testing kits.
After two years of telling the public COVID-19 is deadly and doesn’t discriminate, politicians are now complaining people are too eager to get tested for the virus – even if they display no symptoms.
In fact, the public’s desire to be tested early and tested often is completely understandable. If the cry of the last two years has been ‘better safe than sorry’, it’s completely reasonable for the public to act as they have.
Accustomed to ‘free’ things
Similarly, it’s quite reasonable for the public to demand that COVID-19 testing kits should be handed out to everyone for ‘free’. COVID-19 has got the public accustomed to receiving things for ‘free’ from the government. Except of course nothing from the government ever is ‘free’ – it’s just something paid for by someone else who is either currently paying tax or someone not yet born who’ll be paying taxes some time in the future.
Answering questions yesterday about Djokovic, the Prime Minister said “rules are rules”. However, to many Australians it seems that when it comes to how public health officials administer the rules of COVID-19, there’s a rule of movie stars, and AFL and NRL teams, and another rule for everyone else.
In the days ahead, we’ll discover whether the anonymous comments from ‘a source close to Tennis Australia’ as reported in Melbourne’s The Age are accurate.
“It appeared federal officials blocked Djokovic’s entry to avoid the potentially unpopular appearance of allowing him into the country with a medical exemption. I don’t know how the feds will [address the fact that] several tennis players are already in the country with the same exemption granted to Novak,” the source said.
“This looks to us like the feds are responding to the media by letting some players in but not the World No.1.”
Maybe to play at the championship, there’s a rule for a doubles player ranked in the 200’s who nobody has heard of, and a different rule for the world’s best tennis player, who also happens to be a prominent opponent of vaccination.
Australia’s COVID-19 drama is now about to enter its third year – with no sign of it ending any time soon. A cynic might argue the political economy of COVID-19 is now such that regardless of whatever are the medical consequences of the virus, too many people are now too invested in what’s happening for the curtain to be drawn on it.
And it’s human not to want to be proved wrong. So many people unquestioningly supported the ‘elimination’ strategy imposed by governments at the behest of the small number of public health officials that few very people are willing to risk the opprobrium of daring to ask whether the 287,000 current active cases of COVID-19 in Australia, proves or disproves the success of the strategy.
This drama has run for so long it’s become a cultural phenomenon. We now takes sides and choose the characters we’re going to like or hate. You’re either for Djokovic or against him. And it’s not him.
Our personal opinions on issues such as lockdown, masks, and vaccines are being wielded as instruments of cultural power. In some circles, even uttering the word ‘freedom’ in the context of COVID-19 is regarded as verging on the unacceptable.
More and more we’re now all being pigeonholed according to the heroes and villains we choose in the drama we’re living through.