SYDNEY, Australia – A lawyer for Novak Djokovic, the Serbian tennis star, argued in an Australian court on Monday that the government had made a mistake in canceling a visa for Djokovic because he had met all of the government’s requirements even though there was no been vaccinated for COVID-19.
The hearing came five days after Djokovic was detained at an airport after arriving on a flight from Dubai to compete in the Australian Open.
Djokovic landed Wednesday night on a visa and a vaccination waiver to play in the tournament, which begins Jan.17, but border officials canceled the visa with the support of Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Authorities said Djokovic did not qualify for an exemption from the requirement that all people entering the country be fully vaccinated.
The protracted conflict over the world’s best male tennis player, seeking to win a record 21 Grand Slam titles, landed at the start of an election year in Australia and kicked off another round of international debate on vaccine policy.
With the Omicron variant pushing the number of Covid cases to new heights in both Australia and the rest of the world, Djokovic’s arrest pits those who argue that vaccination is more important than ever to prevent serious illness against those who insist on that no one should be forced to get vaccinated. .
On multiple occasions, Djokovic has voiced his opposition to vaccination mandates, saying that vaccination is a private and personal decision. However, it was not until last week that he revealed whether he had been vaccinated.
In a court filing on Saturday, Djokovic’s lawyers said the tennis star tested positive for the coronavirus in mid-December and that the Australian government had erred in canceling his visa over the vaccine requirement.
Novak Djokovic’s confrontation with Australia
On Monday, Anthony Kelly, the federal court judge overseeing Djokovic’s appeal, noted during the hearing that his visa application had included a medical exemption from a doctor, backed by an independent panel convened by the Victorian state government. .
“The point that worries me a bit is, what else could this man have done?” Judge Kelly said.
But federal government attorneys, in their filing, said previous Covid-19 infections were not a valid reason to postpone immunization against the virus.
According to vaccination guidelines issued in December by the country’s main medical body, people are expected to be vaccinated against Covid-19 after recovering from an “acute serious medical illness” and, the government argued, “the evidence is that the applicant has recovered. “
It is unclear if or when Djokovic was ill. On December 16, the day you said you tested positive, appeared at a public event broadcast live. The next day, he appeared at an award ceremony for youth players, where photos showed that he was not wearing a mask.
What is clear, even to many Australians who say the rules should apply to everyone, including sports superstars, is that they are ashamed of the whole thing. Australia’s registration process for the tournament, and international travel in general during the pandemic, has been marred by confusion, dysfunction and political scoring adding to an image of incompetence.
Djokovic inadvertently joined the fray on Tuesday, when Announced on Twitter that he had received a medical exemption from the requirement that all people entering Australia be vaccinated or quarantined for 14 days upon arrival.
In a statement later that day, Craig Tiley, CEO of Tennis Australia, explained that players seeking an exemption had to pass the test with two panels of medical experts. The process included the redaction of personal information to ensure privacy.
Communications between national health officials and Tennis Australia, and between Tennis Australia and the players, have revealed mixed messages on whether unvaccinated people infected with the coronavirus during the past six months would receive an automatic medical exemption.
Federal officials wrote to Tiley in November to advise her that testing positive for the virus in the past six months would not be enough to automatically enter the country without vaccination. But letters leaked to Australian media showed that an advisor to Australia’s federal health director had also told Tennis Australia that the state of Victoria, where the tournament is taking place, was responsible for evaluating the waivers.
On 2 December, Victoria Health Director Brett Sutton wrote to Tennis Australia: “Anyone with a history of recent Covid-19 infection (defined as within 6 months) and who can provide appropriate evidence of this medical history , is exempt from quarantine obligations when arriving in Victoria from abroad. “
Five days later, Tennis Australia relayed the message to the players.
Djokovic landed at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport around 11:30 pm on Wednesday. After a nearly 10-hour standoff at the airport, border officials said he would have to leave the country. He was held in a room overnight over the validity of his visa and questions about the evidence supporting his medical exemption.
His team filed a legal challenge to the ruling on Thursday. A judge said Djokovic would be allowed to stay in Australia in a hotel hosting refugees until at least Monday while his lawyers awaited a hearing.
By this time, the decision had already turned political. Australian leaders have a long history of winning elections with tough talk about border control, despite the harsh treatment the country gives asylum seekers in extraterritorial detention centers, and Morrison has followed a predictable script.
Facing a tough re-election campaign as the economy begins to recover due to a surge in absences caused by an Omicron outbreak and a shortage of testing capacity, it pounced on the decision to cancel Djokovic’s visa, trying to frame it. as something clear. case of law and order.
“Rules are rules“He said, adding:” Our government has a solid form when it comes to securing our borders, and I don’t think anyone doubts it. “
Critics of Australia’s immigration policies said they were dismayed, but not surprised. The hotel where Djokovic is staying is home to dozens of refugees, including some who have been detained for nearly a decade.
“As a country, we have shown over time that we are very aggressive in enforcing immigration policy,” said Steven Hamilton, a former Australian Treasury official who teaches economics at George Washington University. “People abroad should see this through that prism and not as a measure of health. It has nothing to do with health ”.
On Friday, border officials told Czech doubles player Renata Voracova that she too would have to leave the country, even though she had played matches in tapering tournaments last week.
Voracova, who was granted a medical exemption because she had Covid-19 for the past six months, was transferred to the same hotel as Djokovic, but chose to voluntarily leave the country rather than fight the deportation decision.