They traveled to Tokyo to compete for their country in the Summer Olympics, winning 46 medals for Australia in swimming, cycling, basketball and more. But that didn’t exempt Australian Olympians from their country’s strict rules for quarantine, which for some athletes is up to 28 days.
Anyone flying into Australia must quarantine in a hotel for 14 days, with many Olympians arriving in Sydney, Australia’s largest city, and completing their quarantine there. But 16 athletes traveling on from Sydney to the state of South Australia must spend another 14 days quarantining at home, a requirement that the country’s Olympic committee has called “cruel and uncaring.”
South Australia has tightened its border controls since last month, when a man who traveled there after completing his quarantine in Sydney tested positive for the coronavirus, sending the state into a seven-day lockdown. Sydney is at the center of a nationwide virus outbreak driven by the more contagious Delta variant of the virus, unnerving a country that has kept cases to a minimum for most of the pandemic. Almost half of Australia’s population is currently under lockdown, including in Canberra, the capital, which began a seven-day lockdown on Thursday after reporting its first locally acquired infections in more than a year.
Belinda White, a member of the softball team, said on Thursday that the extra 14 days felt like “a bit of a slap in the face” after representing her country in the Olympics.
Ms. White arrived in Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, on Thursday afternoon after completing the two-week quarantine in Sydney. Speaking to reporters via a virtual news conference while in home quarantine, she said she understood why officials felt the second quarantine was necessary, but that it was “definitely not what I expected and a bit of a shock to the system. I hadn’t prepared for 28 days of this.”
In a statement on Wednesday, the Australian Olympic Committee denounced the “double quarantine” as lacking in “science and common sense.” The committee noted that the athletes were all fully vaccinated and said such a long quarantine could be harmful to their mental health.
“While other countries are celebrating the return of their athletes, we are subjecting ours to the most cruel and uncaring treatment,” said Matt Carroll, chief executive of the committee. “They are being punished for proudly representing their country with distinction at the Olympic Games.”
The committee said its application for the South Australian athletes to be exempted from the extra 14 days had been rejected without explanation.
Steven Marshall, the premier of South Australia, on Thursday defended the policy.
“I think most people can accept that we’ve got to be prudent in South Australia,” he told local journalists. “We enjoy a quality of life that most of the rest of the world, they’re very envious of the situation we have, so we’re going to be doing everything we can to protect that.”
He said officials had notified the Australian Olympic Committee of the requirement last month, and that the majority of the 56 athletes from South Australia were not returning via Sydney so did not need to do the extra 14 days.
“It is tough, it is 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,” Mr. Marshall added.