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Djokovic row fuelling vax debate in Serbia

While Australia’s Serbian community turned out in force to show their support for tennis ace Novak Djokovic in his visa row, opinions are still divided in his Serbian homeland over his aversion to getting vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Arriving in Melbourne to take part in the Australian Open, Djokovic was held in an immigration detention for several days after his visa was cancelled by border officials who questioned his medical exemption for a requirement to be vaccinated for COVID-19.

He was released when a judge quashed that decision, saying his treatment was unreasonable, but he could yet face deportation with Immigration Minister Alex Hawke still considering the issue.

The athlete, who has embraced a new-age lifestyle, has never been vaccinated for COVID-19 although he has not advocated resistance to inoculation – a hot topic in Serbia for over a year.

People waiting for their jab at a hall in Belgrade disagreed on whether the country’s most famous sportsman should have his jab.

“He should be vaccinated because it is good for every person, and for him,” Robi Basic said.

Marina Djodic defended Djokovic’s stance.

“It is a matter of choice. Everyone makes own choices,” she said.

COVID-19 has so far killed 12,984 people in the Balkan country, which has a population of about seven million. More than 1,386,000 cases have been recorded.

Snezana Kalabic, a doctor overseeing vaccinations at the hall, said the numbers of those getting their shots had dwindled since last January.

“At the beginning, we would vaccinate five, six thousand people. In past weeks, the numbers fell drastically to 400 and now to 300 doses per day,” Kalabic said.

Although they introduced restrictive measures in 2020, Serbian authorities have maintained relatively loose policies.

Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said she preferred education to penalties in combating the pandemic.

“I would always prefer talking to people, educating people, informing and appealing, than introducing penalty policies,” she told Reuters.

Bojan Klacar, executive director of the Belgrade-based CESID pollster, said those who are against the vaccination remain entrenched despite appeals by public figures and authorities.

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