Were the Aussies right to ban Djokovic?

Novak Djokovic, the world’s number-one ranked tennis player,

You’ve probably read this week that Novak Djokovic, the world’s number-one ranked tennis player, was caught in an awkward standoff with Australian border police.

A quick catch up: Upon arriving in Melbourne for the Australian Open, one of the world’s four Grand Slam tennis tournaments, the unvaccinated Serbian tennis star was denied entry by federal authorities who said he did not meet the criteria for a vaccine exemption and so does not satisfy entry requirements.

Djokovic explained that he was previously granted a vaccine exemption by Tennis Australia and the Victorian state government. The feds were unmoved.

Djokovic is no stranger to whacky health and conspiracy theories. He is a proponent of holistic healing (nothing wrong with that), but he has also said that you can make toxic water drinkable simply by using “the power of your mind.”

If you are pro-science – and/or a person who has missed out on family milestones over the past 24 months by honoring travel rules – it’s easy to criticize Djokovic, who seems to think his trophy case entitles him to special consideration. But this flare-up isn’t really about the tennis star’s predilections for natural (or unnatural) remedies.

As the highly transmissible omicron sweeps the globe, perhaps redefining the trajectory of the pandemic, many argue that vaccine mandates for cross-border travel are superfluous. Others say these requirements remain crucial to protect public health.

Here are some good arguments on both sides.

The pro-mandate camp

Preliminary data suggest that omicron is much less likely to hospitalize or kill the infected, thanks in part to the most effective vaccines. Still, the variant’s unprecedented rate of transmission means that even if a smaller percentage of infected people need medical care, the overall larger number of infected people can still fill a city’s hospital beds.

In the US and parts of Europe where vaccination rates remain sluggish, mandates would prevent non-vaccinated foreigners coming in who might place even more burden on already-swamped healthcare systems. Vaccine mandates for border crossers aren’t foolproof. But they are the best protection we’ve got in speeding the shift to endemicity.

Moreover, some vaccines still offer some protection against the antibody-evading omicron strain. This is particularly true for those who have been fully vaccinated and boosted with an mRNA shot. Indeed, the more people that get vaccinated, the less opportunity the virus will have to spread and mutate, threatening those who are vulnerable to severe illness. Requiring vaccines for all international travel will force many fence-sitters and skeptics to get the shot. Consider this: If Djokovic was told from the get-go that exemptions weren’t an option, would he still have resisted the mandate and given up his spot in four Grand Slams this year?

The anti-mandate camp

A majority of the world’s vaccinated people has received a non-mRNA shot from Johnson & Johnson, Oxford-AstraZeneca, Russia’s Sputnik V or China’s Sinopharm or Sinovac. These vaccines don’t appear to block omicron as effectively as mRNA vaccines. Sinopharm and Sinovac, which account for roughly half of all shots delivered globally, provide no protection against infection at all (though they still appear to provide some protection against severe illness). Vaccine mandates for travel become obsolete when even vaccinated people have a high chance of turning up a positive result.

Some have argued that to give Djokovic a special tennis pass when Australian citizens living abroad weren’t able to return home for close to two years is a slap in the face to those who respect rules. But public health policy should be based on science-based reasoning and logic – not driven by political principle.

Additionally, there have been some studies that show that virus acquired immunity provides broader protection from reinfection than vaccination immunity. If so, exposure to omicron, which comes at low personal risk, coupled with vaccination – a concept known as hybrid immunity – could be the fastest way to reach herd immunity (and end the pandemic), a sentiment supported by Israel’s health minister.

Ramanan Laxminarayan, an epidemiologist, told the New York Times that “the combination of vaccination and exposure to the virus seems to be stronger than only having the vaccine,” adding that India and Brazil may therefore be better positioned to deal with the omicron wave than countries that have experienced lower infection rates.

So, were the Aussies right to ban the unvaccinated Novak Djokovic? Let us know what you think.

People working at computers in a room labeled Malware Lab

Microsoft observed destructive malware in systems belonging to several Ukrainian government agencies and organizations that work closely with the Ukrainian government. The Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) published a technical blog post detailing Microsoft’s ongoing investigation and how the security community can detect and defend against this malware. Microsoft shared this information over the weekend to help others in the cybersecurity community look out for and defend against these attacks. To read more visit Microsoft On the Issues.

President Vladimir Putin

No one knows whether Russian President Vladimir Putin plans on invading Ukraine. But the president of the United States sure seems to think this is a real possibility, saying Wednesday that Putin will likely "move in" in the near term. Biden, prone to political gaffes, was then forced to awkwardly walk back comments that Russia would face milder consequences from the West in the event of a "minor incursion."

The timing of this blunder is... not great. It comes just as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken prepares to meet his Russian counterpart on Friday in hopes of lowering the temperature after recent diplomatic efforts in Geneva were deemed a failure by Moscow.

Indeed, with the Kremlin having amassed at least 100,000 troops surrounding Ukraine on three sides, the growing threat is impossible to ignore. So what would a Russian military offensive into Ukraine actually look like, and how might the West respond?

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Omicron has arrived. It's more contagious, but less severe. Some parts of the world are even looking forward to the pandemic becoming endemic.

Not China. Xi Jinping's zero-COVID strategy has worked wonders until now, but it's unlikely to survive omicron, explains Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

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Chilling at the beach, retired German Chancellor Angela Merkel is so over politics. Or is she?


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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi everybody. Happy Tuesday after the long weekend for those of us that had a long weekend. I thought I would kick us off with the first major foreign policy crisis of the Biden administration. And that is of course, Russia-Ukraine. Afghanistan, of course, was a debacle, but not exactly a global crisis. This of course has the potential to really change the way we think about European security and about US relations with the other major nuclear power in the world. So, I would say that the level of concern is even higher and there are a lot of things we can say.
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Selling Xinjiang. Xi Jinping — a man well known for both his grand vision of China’s future, and for his willingness to get large numbers of people to do things they might not otherwise do — said in 2018 that he wanted 300 million Chinese people to participate in winter sports. The Chinese government announced this week that this goal has been met in honor of the Beijing Winter Olympic Games, which open in China’s capital on February 4. Multinational companies are consistently impressed by the commercial opportunities created when 300 million people decide to try new things. But it’s an inconvenient truth that most of China’s most abundant snow and best ski slopes are found in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, a place where Western governments and human rights organizations have accused Beijing of imprisoning more than one million minority Uyghurs in re-education camps. In these prisons, critics say inmates have experienced “torture, and inhumane and degrading treatment.” As China’s government opens new profit opportunities in Xinjiang, multinational corporations will face pressure from multiple directions not to invest there.

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345,000: As of Wednesday afternoon ET, Tonga's Olympic flag-bearer has raised more than $345,000 online to help the victims of Saturday's volcanic eruption and tsunami. Pita Taufatofua, a taekwondo fighter and cross-country skier, has not yet heard from his father, governor of the main Tongan island of Haapai.

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Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week, discussing Boris Johnson's tenuous status as UK PM, US Secretary of State Blinken's visit to Ukraine, and the volcano eruption in Tonga:

Will Boris Johnson resign?

It certainly looks that way. He's hanging on by his fingernails. He's losing members of Parliament. He's giving shambolic media interviews. In fact, I think the only people that don't want him to resign at this point is the Labour Party leadership, because they think the longer he holds on, the better it is for the UK opposition. But no, he certainly looks like he's going. The only question is how quickly. Is it within a matter of weeks or is it after local elections in May? But feel pretty confident that the days of Boris Johnson are numbered.

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COVID at the Beijing Winter Olympics

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