Sunday, October 17, 2021

Olympic quarantine: Australia and France become ‘race to the bottom’

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Image copyright EPA Image caption Australians are unhappy over quarantine procedures for Olympic athletes in France

French quarantine authorities have drawn criticism from Australian officials after returning Australian Olympians from a visit there were told to meet a quarantine official first.

The decision to meet the inspector first – if an athlete has entered Australia – was taken in order to limit their exposure to viruses.

A doctor for the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) said that Canadians, Americans and Europeans were getting away with the same treatment.

Australia is not one of those nations.

But Australia’s quarantine laws were still used to require the athletes to travel to France before they were allowed back into Australia.

On returning, that involved the individual having to go through the same physical and health examination they had undertaken in France.

‘Double-denial’

Dwight Jaynes, the AOC’s chief medical officer, told Australia’s Nine Network that “conspiracy theories” had circulated about the reason for that condition, with some claiming it was because of the swimming squad being made up largely of swimmers.

“The timing of the letter saying to meet the inspector first is not coincidental, as it is a frequent practice for such inspections to be followed on a day when physical examinations are carried out,” Dr Jaynes said.

The double quarantine protocol and subsequent health assessments are still used when people travel through a country like France, which has one of the strictest biosecurity policies in the world.

But it is unusual for athletes to be told that to meet a quarantine inspector first – particularly when travelling to an Olympic Games.

Image copyright AFP Image caption The reasons for the visit are still unclear

This is not the first time French authorities have faced criticism over the handling of Australian athletes.

In 2008, an Australian weightlifter accidentally damaged part of the fencing fence on the way back to Australia after winning bronze at the Olympics.

It is thought by officials at the time to have been a mild case of food poisoning or mono.

But the athlete’s girlfriend complained that she was told to go and see the officials after she received no news that the athlete had gone to hospital.

She was instead given the news she’d been hoping for.

‘Very contentious issue’

Dr Jaynes told the ABC that Australia’s approval of other nations’ governments to have their athletes travel freely through Australia remained a point of contention.

“I have concerns about the physical integrity of Australian athletes.

“There are teams, mainly from America and Canada, that have trained quite extensively in Australia and then come back to their countries without their individual athletes having to be quarantined,” he said.

“So I find that very controversial. In fact, I find it very troublesome.”

In 2009, the then federal health minister Nicola Roxon said a policy of double quarantine for Australian athletes travelling to the Olympics was “not reasonable” and warned that any violation of quarantine rules could lead to boycotts of the games.

After the Games, Fairfax Media reported that a senior Australian team doctor was referring members of the Australian Olympic team to prostitutes, who could offer “compensation for their lost days of training”.

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