Thursday briefing: Djokovic told ‘rules are rules’ in vaccine row

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Top story: Anger in Serbia at ‘harassment’ of player

Good morning, I’m Virginia Harrison and here are our top stories this Thursday.

An extraordinary battle has broken out at the Australian border after tennis star Novak Djokovic was denied entry to the country for failing to meet strict Covid vaccination rules. The world No 1, who was due to play in the Australian Open, has launched a court battle amid a spiralling outcry over a controversial “medical exemption” agreed by the tournament’s organisers.

The Serbian player is awaiting his fate in a Melbourne quarantine hotel as he mounts a legal challenge against Australia’s decision to cancel his visa. The move has sparked diplomatic fallout, with Serbia’s president Aleksandar Vučić accusing Australia of “maltreatment”.

“I told our Novak that the whole of Serbia is with him and that our bodies are doing everything to see that the harassment of the world’s best tennis player is brought to an end immediately,” he said in a statement.

The star’s father, Srdjan, had strong words for the world, telling Russian media: “Tonight they can throw him in a dungeon, tomorrow they can put him in chains. The truth is he is like water and water paves its own path. Novak is the Spartacus of the new world which won’t tolerate injustice, colonialism and hypocrisy.”

The Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, dismissed pleas to reconsider the move, saying “rules are rules, and there are no special cases.” He added: “People are welcome in Australia, but if they’re not double vaccinated and not an Australian resident, you can’t come.”

Djokovic, who is no stranger to controversy and bad behaviour, has become something of a flashpoint among the Australian public over the sense that different sets of rules apply to powerful or famous people.

You can read our explainer on how the Djokovic drama unfolded here.


Covid staffing crisis – Millions of patients will suffer worsening quality of care unless ministers take immediate action to alleviate the staffing crisis engulfing the NHS, health chiefs have warned. The NHS Confederation, which represents the whole healthcare system, has called for a range of new measures to be implemented in the NHS in England to help overstretched hospitals and struggling ambulance, mental health, community, GP and social care services cope with “widespread” shortages of medics and health workers. The measures include deploying tens of thousands of medical students on to wards and other healthcare settings, priority access for NHS and social care staff to lateral flow and PCR tests and a review of self-isolation periods to see if it can be slashed from 10 days to five. The warning is the latest in a deepening staffing crisis across the healthcare system driven by the Omicron wave. You can read all our coronavirus coverage here or listen to this podcast on why so many people are getting reinfected with Covid.


Colston Four – Anti-racism campaigners have hailed a jury’s decision to clear protesters responsible for toppling a statue of the slave trader Edward Colston as a huge step in getting the UK to face up to its colonial past. As Rajeev Syal writes, the acquittal of the Colston Four will prompt close scrutiny of the actions of the home secretary, Priti Patel, who became personally involved in ensuring that they were pursued through the criminal justice system. Hours after the statue of the slave trader was toppled on 7 June 2020, Patel appeared on Sky News to demand that police pursue those responsible, saying their behaviour was “utterly disgraceful”. Two days later, it emerged that she had also called Andy Marsh, the chief constable of Avon and Somerset police, to demand an explanation. Nazir Afzal, the former chief prosecutor for north-west England, told the Guardian: “We have a tripartite regime for a reason and that is so that politicians do not get involved in the operational decisions taken by the police. It may be that she has overstepped the boundaries of that arrangement.” As of Wednesday night, Patel had not released a statement commenting on the trial verdict. The acquittal is the latest in a series of cases in which juries have cleared protesters despite there being no question of their having carried out the actions for which they were tried. Here are some other recent examples.


Cost of living – Jacob Rees-Mogg asked Rishi Sunak to reconsider impending tax rises as the chancellor and the prime minister came under sustained fire from Conservative MPs to tackle rising costs of living. Ministers are examining further targeted measures to mitigate soaring energy costs for vulnerable households including potentially extending the warm homes discount – but are set to reject a VAT cut. During a cabinet debate on Wednesday, Rees-Mogg is understood to have suggested the chancellor ditch the impending 1.25 percentage point increase in national insurance to ease the squeeze.


‘No more talk’ – One of the only black female QCs in England and Wales has said the time has come for action on tackling race inequality in the legal profession. Barbara Mills, who is co-chair of the Bar Council’s race working group, said the next 12 months would be “critical” to tackling systemic obstacles at the bar. A landmark Race at the Bar report found there were just five black female QCs – senior barristers, also known as silks – in England and Wales (another two were announced last month). Another stark statistic: a black female junior barrister with the same level of experience as a white male junior billed £18,700 a year less on average, and an Asian woman £16,400 less. Mills said: “… [what] our brown and black colleagues are expecting is a sense, a feeling of visibility, that it’s changing – no more talk, just change it.”


‘I kept saying – don’t worry Luma, we see you’ – Oscar-winning director Andrea Arnold has revealed what four years spent filming a cow taught her about life. Her new documentary, Cow, explores warmth, joy and anger through the eyes of a farmyard animal, and consists of 94 minutes of moos, with the odd off-camera interjection from farmhands.

Today in Focus podcast: How the Capitol attack still divides the US

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The swapping, collating and posting of nude images of women without their consent is on the rise. But unlike revenge porn, it is not a crime. Now survivors are demanding a change in the law.

Sport

A dropped catch from Joe Root helped Australia negotiate a wicketless morning session on day two of the fourth Ashes Test, before Usman Khawaja lit up the SCG with a century on his international return as Australia built a large total. Follow our live updates here.

Antonio Conte acknowledged Chelsea were “much stronger” than Tottenham Hotspur after watching his side get outclassed by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night. So bad were Tottenham’s mistakes in the first leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final that they deflected the spotlight away from the storm engulfing Romelu Lukaku. Uefa would welcome a bid for the 2028 European Championship from the UK and Republic of Ireland after hopes of bringing the 2030 World Cup there began to fade.

The Women’s Championship club Coventry United have avoided liquidation after an agreement in principle to sell the club’s shares was struck at the 11th hour. Rugby officials are still locked in crunch talks which will dictate whether the Six Nations and European club competitions can withstand the latest wave of Covid-19 infections. And the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts has called on the NFL and the Washington Football Team to improve safety measures at FedExField after a railing collapsed at the stadium on Sunday.

Business

Mishcon de Reya, one of the UK’s most prestigious law firms, has been fined a record amount for committing “serious breaches” of money-laundering rules. The London-based firm has agreed to pay a fine of £232,500, plus a further £50,000 towards the costs of the investigation, which was carried out by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). The settlement will prevent the investigation looming over the firm as it prepares to float on the London Stock Exchange. To the markets and the FTSE is expected to open lower after falls in Asia and the US. The pound is fetching $1.35 and €1.20.

The papers

Guardian front page 6 January 2022
Photograph: Guardian

The Colston four dominate today’s front pages, with plenty of space also given to Covid and the Djokovic deportation saga.

The Guardian leads with “Four cleared over toppling of Edward Colston statue” while the Telegraph has “‘Colston four’ walk free as jury says no crime was committed”. The Daily Express’s take is “Statue ‘vandals’ cleared … but where will it all end?”

The Times has “Bristol jury clears protestors who toppled Edward Colston statue” above a report on “Boost for holidays as travel tests scrapped”, saying families to save £300 to avoid quarantine.

The i newspaper leads with “Deported”, alongside a picture of an angry Djokovic, saying the world No 1 tennis player was told he will be removed from Australia in a visa row over his refusal to be vaccinated.

The Daily Mail also runs a picture of Djokovic, saying the “anti-vaccine tennis star” is to be “kicked out of Australia”, while its splash is “We have lift-off, Britain!” on the scrapping of almost all testing rules on foreign travel.

Covid also features in the Mirror, with “Perfect storm” – reporting on the NHS front line. The paper says the NHS is facing a crisis with soaring staff absences and a huge rise in Covid patients.

The FT has “Fuel to the fire: Protests grip Kazakhstan” after fuel price rises triggered violent clashes in the country. You can read the latest from the Guardian on the story here.

And the Sun reports Conservative peer Baroness Mone will be questioned by police over allegations she sent a racist text message.

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