No backdown on four-week quarantine for Aussie Olympic athletes

Sydney (AFP) –


Australian state officials defended their decision Thursday to force some Olympic athletes to quarantine for four weeks, as one high-profile sports star branded the move "disgusting" and another "embarrassing".

All overseas travellers, including the nearly 500-strong Australian team, must spend 14 days in isolation at a designated hotel or special outback camp on arrival in the country, under strict coronavirus rules.

The South Australian government is also insisting that those heading back to the state from Sydney must repeat the two-week quarantine.

The Australian Olympic Committee slammed the move as "cruel", but South Australia Premier Steven Marshall said it was necessary.

"It is tough, we feel for these athletes, but every person coming in from Sydney is required to do 14 days," he told reporters.

"We've got to be prudent in South Australia. It's tough but the Delta variant is a killer."

He pointed out that the state's most recent seven-day lockdown -- which ended on July 27 -- was prompted by a resident returning from New South Wales.

There are 56 athletes expected back in South Australia with 16 already undergoing quarantine in Sydney, which is currently in a lockdown to try and stem a Delta variant outbreak.

The entire Australian team, who won 17 gold medals and 46 in total, are fully vaccinated and were tested for Covid-19 almost daily in Japan.

Adelaide's Belinda White, a member of Australia's Olympic softball team, will be one of the first impacted after completing her Sydney stint this week.

Softball Australia chief David Pryles said he was worried about her mental health, noting that she had already been away from friends and family since June 1.

"To force Belinda to undergo an extra 14 days by herself upon returning to her hometown of Adelaide frankly gives us concern for the mental well-being of our returning Olympian," he said.

- 'Embarrassed'-

Several notable Australian sportspeople weighed in on the controversy with cricket star Glenn Maxwell tweeting: "This is actually disgusting," while tennis' Luke Saville, who played singles and doubles in Tokyo, said he was "embarrassed to be a South Aussie".

Adelaide rower Molly Goodman claimed she was only informed about the extra quarantine requirement "probably two days ago at the most".

"I'm not sure I've actually come to terms with it, to be honest," she told broadcaster ABC from her Sydney hotel room. "It's quite a lot to ask of the athletes."

Australia dodged the worst ravages of the pandemic through a strategy of closed borders, lockdowns, travel quarantine, and aggressive testing and tracing.

But those tools now appear blunted in the face of the highly transmissible Delta variant, with several regions struggling to control case numbers.