Thu. Jan 27th, 2022

It was a bad week for vaccine reluctant. Their unofficial bow figure, Novak Djokovic, the world’s number one tennis player, faces deportation from Australia because they do not meet requirements that visitors should be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 unless they have a valid exemption. Italy has passed a vaccine mandate for those over 50s. Across the Alps, the French president says he wants Go away, or “piss off”, the unvaccinated by further restricting their social lives, rather than sending them to jail. Emmanuel Macron, if you will excuse his French, has a point.

Nudging is always more effective than brute force. The day after Macron’s salt language has been published, 66 000 people in France got their first stab; three times the daily average. Governments should not order the general public to undergo what amounts to a medical procedure. Threatening jail or compulsory vaccines can also harden skeptics’ views. For an even more hardy anti-wax minority, impenetrable to data showing that vaccines have dampened the severity of the coronavirus, no degree of persuasion will work. Their personal choice to remain unvaccinated, which has repercussions for the wider society, should also have consequences for them. Limiting their ability to socialize creates a balance.

Rafael Nadal made a similar point. “Everyone is free to make their own decisions, but then there are some consequences,” the Spanish tennis star said when he heard about Djokovic’s suffering at Australian Border Force, which claims Djokovic did not provide evidence to properly support a medical release. Djokovic is attractive. Australia has strict immigration rules at the best of times. Its coronavirus rules are not new or a secret. They should apply to everyone, no matter how famous or talented they are. Before the ABF intervened, the Australian public was rightly furious that Djokovic could possibly violate restrictions they had to comply with. Thought he could fly unvaccinated around the world to a major sporting event in a country with a vaccination rate of 77 percent and winning, at least in the court of public opinion, was an unforced error by Djokovic.

Tennis Australia undoubtedly shares the blame for the chaos. This allowed Djokovic to assume he could travel by originally granting an exemption on unspecified grounds through two medical panels. It should have communicated federal immigration rules better. The ABF is now investigating whether other players entered the country on dubious grounds.

More widely, sports bodies can better persuade athletes to be vaccinated, by stick and root. Some sports have a significant minority of players who remain unvaccinated, perhaps because they believe that youth and fitness provide superpowers to fight the virus, or over (unfounded) concerns that vaccines may impair performance. Aside from the risks that Covid has long posed, none of the arguments provide for how personal choice can harm others.

This year would surely prove a reckoning. When Djokovic won the Australian Open in 2021, vaccine deployment had just begun. Now, apart from in exceptional circumstances, those in the developed world had ample opportunity to be stimulated, with 9.33 billion doses administered.

Djokovic will no doubt be dirty in his immigration hotel while awaiting trial on Monday – before a judge rather than a referee. There may be some truth in his supporters’ claims of which he has been made a high-profile example. But to channel Voltaire, it’s good to get angry every now and then to encourage others.

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