Novak Djokovic refused entry to Australia after initial COVID-19 medical exemption
BRISBANE, Australia – Novak Djokovic’s chance to play for a 10th Australian Open title was thrown into limbo on Thursday when the country denied him entry and canceled his visa because he failed to fulfill not the conditions for exemption from the COVID-19 vaccination rules.
Premier Djokovic announced on social media on Tuesday that he had an ‘exemption clearance’ and landed in Australia on Wednesday evening after receiving a medical exemption from the Victoria state government that would protect him from strict regulations vaccination in place for the first major tournament this year. tennis tournament.
But border officials did not accept the exemption. The Australian Border Force issued a statement saying Djokovic did not qualify for entry.
“The rule is very clear,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at a press conference on Thursday. “You need to have a medical exemption. He didn’t have a valid medical exemption. We make the call at the border, and that’s where it’s applied.”
Health Minister Greg Hunt said the visa cancellation followed a review of Djokovic’s medical exemption by border officials who examined “the integrity and evidence behind it.”
He said Djokovic was free to appeal the decision, “but if a visa is canceled someone will have to leave the country.”
The president of Djokovic’s native Serbia blasted the “harassment” of the star, who was detained overnight at Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport. The 20-time winner had to wait more than eight hours at the airport to find out if he would be allowed in. He was then transferred to a hotel, pending flight arrangements or action in justice.
A source close to the tournament told Reuters that Djokovic plans to seek an injunction against the decision.
Morrison confirmed the visa cancellation in a Message on Twitter: “Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders. No one is above these rules. Our strict border policies have been essential in ensuring Australia has one of the lowest death rates in the world because of COVID, we continue to be vigilant. “
Responding later to questions about the confusion between different federal and state government requirements, Morrison said it is ultimately up to individual travelers to have the correct documents upon arrival.
The PM also dismissed the suggestion that Djokovic was distinguished, but acknowledged that other players could be in Australia with the same type of medical and visa waiver.
“One of the things the Border Force does is act on intelligence to bring its attention to potential arrivals,” he said. they draw attention to themselves. ”
Anyone who does this “be it a celebrity, a politician, a tennis player …
The medical exemptions, verified by two independent expert panels and based on information provided anonymously by players, were designed to allow Djokovic to play at the Australian Open, regardless of his COVID vaccine status -19.
He has spoken out against vaccines in the past and has steadfastly refused to acknowledge whether he had received any coronavirus vaccines.
His father, Srdjan Djokovic, told internet portal B92 that his son was being held at the airport “in a room where no one can enter” and guarded by two policemen.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said on Instagram that he spoke to Djokovic while he was detained at the airport, ahead of the decision to revoke his visa. Vucic said the Serbian authorities were taking measures “to stop the harassment of the best tennis player in the world as soon as possible.
“In accordance with all standards of international law, Serbia will fight for Novak, truth and justice. Novak is strong, as we all know.”
Vucic had summoned the Australian ambassador to Belgrade and demanded that they immediately release Djokovic to play, Serbian media reported.
Djokovic’s revelation on social media that he was on his way to Australia in search of a record-breaking 21st major title instantly became a hot political topic, with many Australians furious that he had been granted an exemption to enter the country . Critics have asked what grounds he might have for the exemption, and supporters have argued that he has a right to privacy and freedom of choice.
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley defended the “completely legitimate request and process” and insisted there was no special treatment for Djokovic.
The state government of Victoria has demanded that only fully vaccinated players, staff, fans and officials can enter Melbourne Park when the tournament begins on January 17.
Only 26 people linked to the tournament have requested medical exemption and, Tiley said, only a “handful” has been granted.
Acceptable grounds for exemption include major acute medical conditions, serious adverse reactions to a previous dose of COVID-19 vaccine, or evidence of COVID-19 infection within the previous six months.
Djokovic tested positive for the coronavirus in June 2020 after playing in a series of exhibition matches he staged in Serbia and Croatia without social distancing amid the pandemic.
Speculation about a possible problem with Djokovic’s visa emerged while he was in transit and escalated on Wednesday with mixed messages from federal and state lawmakers.
Morrison initially said the medical exemption decision rested with the government of Victoria, of which Melbourne is the state capital.
But Home Secretary Karen Andrews then clarified the border process.
“While the Victorian government and Tennis Australia may allow an unvaccinated player to participate in the Australian Open, it is the Commonwealth government that will enforce our requirements at the Australian border,” Andrews said. “If an arriving individual is not vaccinated, they must provide acceptable proof that they cannot be medically vaccinated to be able to access the same travel arrangement as fully vaccinated travelers.”
Asked again about Djokovic’s case later on Wednesday, Morrison added, “If this evidence is insufficient, then he will not be treated any differently from anyone else, and he will be on the next plane home.”
Information from the Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.