SYDNEY (REUTERS, AFP) – South Australia’s government on Thursday (Aug 12) said it would not back down on its requirement for Olympians returning from Tokyo via Sydney to quarantine for a total of 28 days, a ruling the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) has described as “cruel”.

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 athletes were expecting to be in quarantine for 14 days, but the extra fortnight is a South Australia requirement for recent visitors to New South Wales, whose capital is Sydney.

South Australia Premier Steven Marshall said he would not be granting the athletes an exemption, especially given the state’s current seven-day lockdown was sparked by a resident with Covid-19 returning home after undergoing quarantine in Sydney.

“It’s devastating for people who have already done 14 days,” Mr Marshall told local media on Thursday.

“It is a tough decision but we have got to take tough decisions to protect South Australia. It is very, very tough and we feel for these athletes, but every person coming in from Sydney at the moment is required to do 14 days of quarantine.”

He said the majority of the athletes would be able to isolate at home rather than in quarantine hotels but that is unlikely to appease the AOC, which has reacted with fury to the edict.

Chief executive Matt Carroll said the AOC had received assurances from the national cabinet, the body that oversees inter-state relations, that no athlete would have to quarantine twice. He said the AOC had applied for dispensation on the grounds that the Olympic team – who won 17 gold medals in Tokyo – were fully vaccinated, had been tested daily and were living in a bio-secure “bubble”. The AOC had been given no reason for the rejection of its application, he said.

“Our concern from the outset has been the mental and physical health of the athletes and we have respected the 14-day quarantine period,” Carroll said. “But without the detailed reasons, it’s very hard to understand why these athletes are being required to undergo this additional quarantine period. A reduction in the period of quarantine would be a good outcome.”

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.

Australian Institute of Sport chief medical officer David Hughes said on Wednesday the extra quarantine period could not be scientifically justified and posed a significant risk to the physical and mental wellbeing of individuals affected.

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.

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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.”

Through a combination of strict travel and border controls and snap lockdowns, Australia has fared better than many other developed countries during the pandemic, recording fewer than 37,000 Covid-19 cases and a death toll under 1,000.

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