Epidemics concern groups, not individuals. This is why Djokovic faces deportation | Stuart Mills

aAfter a week of controversy over Novak Djokovic’s right to remain in Australia and compete in the Australian Open, his visa has now been revoked. Djokovic’s case has many legal and medical aspects, but it has quickly become a symbolic battle between those who support vaccination against the Corona virus and travel restrictions, and those who oppose them.

The significance of his case must be understood in terms of its impact on public health and behaviour. It is not always likely that Djokovic’s actions alone will have a significant impact on Covid rates in Australia. Moreover, an athlete in his 30s (like Djokovic) is, statistically speaking, unlikely to contract seriously ill with the virus, and therefore individually unlikely to strain Australia’s healthcare system.

But epidemics are about groups, not individuals – and the potential impact of this incident on group behavior is what really matters here.

An unprotected, high-profile Djokovic, who was granted an Australian visa through medical exemption, could have become a symbol of the Australian government’s leniency regarding its restrictions. There is precedent for this in the “Cummings effect”: public confidence in the UK government’s handling of the pandemic has dented after it was revealed that No. 10 First Adviser Dominic Cummings had traveled to Durham during the lockdown. The Australian government’s decision to revoke Djokovic’s visa and potentially deport him – despite a court ruling earlier this week that he can stay and compete – is likely motivated by a desire to avoid a similar “Djokovic effect”.

Australia saw a massive increase in coronavirus cases during the Omicron wave, and Victoria, the host country of the Australian Open, broke its record for Covid hospitalizations this week. The “Djokovic effect” would be disastrous, as it could push even those who would otherwise follow the rules towards non-compliance.

Throughout the pandemic, Australia has imposed some of the world’s longest and harshest lockdown measures. These measures rely heavily on evoking a sense of “positivity” — the idea that our actions should benefit everyone, not just ourselves. But this social contract only lasts through equity. Thus, injustice can make us want to punish others and rebel, even if it is to the detriment of ourselves. Equity is critical to pandemic compliance, and one can expect that people will become non-compliant with current restrictions, even when those restrictions are self-helpful.And If injustice is perceived.

It is possible that the Australian government has now revoked Djokovic’s visa because it realized that an obedient majority of Australians would consider the original court decision unfair. Djokovic did not help himself by being photographed in public shortly after he tested positive for Covid-19 and possibly making incorrect statements in his visa application. From a behavioral perspective, this leads to a simple conclusion: people who abide by the rules will stop if the rules are seen as allowing the rules to be broken.

Likewise, there is a non-compliant minority to consider. In rejecting vaccinations or ignoring lockdown rules, this group must overcome social norms and fear of shame and “being other” by the majority. Djokovic is one of the few outstanding individuals anywhere in the world who seem to publicly support their beliefs. Those who resist vaccinations and restrictions may view the decision earlier this week to allow him to remain in Australia as a tacit affirmation of their own views, as may any Australian government decision against further action.

Djokovic’s lawyers recognized that this was all happening in a broader context, and argued that authorities were reacting with the risk of stirring up anti-vaccination sentiment more broadly, rather than taking the tennis player’s case on their own merits. Meanwhile, the immigration minister said in a statement that this latest decision was based on “health reasons and good order”.

By revoking Djokovic’s visa, the Australian government may be trying to prevent him from becoming an important and positive figure for those who oppose vaccination or travel restrictions. By taking such action, now in front of an international audience, Prime Minister Scott Morrison is drawing a clear line in the sand and turning Djokovic’s initial release into a reaffirmation of Australia’s actions on Covid.

Leave a Comment