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should, of course, be straightforward. But they have not been clear to anyone, even the Australian Prime Minister. The organizers of the Australian Open, who convened an expert panel of medical advisers to assess exemptions from vaccination, believed everything was all in order. So did a medical panel of the Victorian state government. Before Djokovic’s arrival in Melbourne, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told the country that was all that mattered. Just hours later, Morrison seemingly changed his mind and declared that the federal government made the rules. All of this played out while Djokovic was in the air traveling to Australia. It was then presented to the superstar at border control in the very early hours of the morning. This echoes the broader experience of the pandemic. Australia has resembled less of a nation-state, with a clear-sighted leader at its helm, as it has a collection of states led by warring premiers from
different parties and different factions over these past three years. Whether it is between federal and state governments, or between the various state governments, health advice and policy have at times varied wildly. More fundamentally, the episode reveals how intense Australia’s border politics have become during the pandemic. At the start of the pandemic, Prime Minister Morrison declared that the virus was foremost a threat to Australia’s sovereignty. In March 2020, Australia cut itself off from the world. Foreigners were not allowed in. Citizens and permanent residents had to apply for permission to access an ever-diminishing number of rooms in quarantine facilities. Later in the year, no one was even allowed out of the country without express permission, which was far more often denied than granted. Many Australians felt they had little hope of navigating these restrictions, short of having the luxury of special exemptions or an army of lawyers at their disposal. I was relieved when my sons got mild Covid-19. Then I thought about this Accompanying these border restrictions were some of the longest and strictest lockdowns in the world. Both major parties supported them, with state premiers requesting the army be sent onto the streets and stopping
people leaving their homes even for exercise or essential shopping. These restrictions would have been unthinkable anywhere in the democratic countries of the northern hemisphere. And yet there was almost no resistance here in Australia. Quite the contrary, many — if not reveling in them — believe they were absolutely necessary. Public acceptance of border closures and lockdowns have reflected Australia’s deep aversion to biosecurity risk, and Australians’ tendency to see their country as a sanctuary from the rest of a troublesome world. Such attitudes or mindsets have not just emerged from the pandemic. They have deeper cultural and historical roots. For a couple of decades, the rise of affordable international aviation connected Australia to the rest of the world. Covid-19, though, has returned the nation to an older national psyche. Migrants missing family or their homelands, for example, have been frequently chastised and reminded that earlier generations of migrants were unable to have the luxury of travel, restricted by the cost and the technology; it should be no great burden for them to be stuck in the greatest country on Earth. During the past week, Australian player Nick Kygrios took to social media to say that he couldn’t work out why people wanted to travel the world anyway. Apparently being at home in Canberra, secure from the worst of the pandemic, was the greatest gift there was. Indeed, if this Djokovic saga does say anything about Australia, it is that the country remains attached to a belief in “Fortress Australia.” For many Australians, it is a political article of
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