MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Prime Minister Scott Morrison has indicated that unvaccinated tennis players will be allowed to enter the country for the Australian Open provided they undergo two weeks in hotel quarantine.
Morrison on Wednesday moved to clarify the border situation a week after his immigration minister suggested there’d be a no jab, no visa policy for the tournament next January.
Morrison told Australian television networks there are exemptions to the strict COVID-19 pandemic international border protection rules for those who qualify under skilled worker or economic benefit criteria.
“If there is a special exemption that is warranted for an economic reason, well, that can happen,” he said. “But you’ve got to follow the health rules in that state — and two weeks quarantine for unvaccinated people, well, that’s sensible,” Morrison told Australia’s Nine network.
He said the ultimate decision was for the state of Victoria, which hosts the Australian Open at Melbourne Park. Victoria has a mandatory vaccination policy in place for athletes competing in domestic leagues.
Australia is preparing to re-open its international borders next month for the first time since the global pandemic started last year, but it’ll be a gradual, state-by-state process and will depend on vaccination rates across the country. Fully vaccinated people will have fewer restrictions in Australia than those who are not.
Tennis stars who are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 are set to be allowed to travel to Australia from Dec. 1 and, after testing negative to the coronavirus, will not have to quarantine ahead of the Jan. 17-30 Grand Slam event.
Unvaccinated players will face similar restrictions to those in place for the 2021 edition, which included a 14-day hotel quarantine for all players, coaches and officials who arrived from overseas.
Morrison said there needed to be some flexibility to the strict rules in order for major events to go ahead in Australia.
“We’re going to have one of the highest vaccination rates in the world ... one of the lowest fatality rates from COVID in the world and the strongest economy coming through COVID in the world,” he said. “We want major events in this country. A lot of jobs depend on it. We want Australia to show to the world that we’re open, we’re getting on with it.”
Morrison’s comments followed a leaked email this week from the WTA to its Players’ Council which suggested unvaccinated players would likely be granted a visa but must do two weeks in isolation.
The email said Tennis Australia was still working with the government on the details but because Victoria state was expected to hit a vaccination target of 90% of the adult population by next month, “it has been confirmed that conditions for the players at the Australian Open will improve significantly.”
Tennis Australia later said “We are optimistic that we can hold the Australian Open as close to pre-pandemic conditions as possible.”
The vaccination debate has been ongoing in tennis since international competition started re-emerging following a global shutdown last year.
Some players, including nine-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic, have advocated that the decision to get the vaccine should be a personal choice. Others, including Andy Murray, have said it should be mandated for the good of the majority.
At the U.S. Open, which ended Sept. 12, spectators had to show proof of at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to attend matches, although players weren’t required to get a shot.
Both the men’s and the women’s tours are recommending all players get vaccinated but so far have not enforced it.