Novak Djokovic, the top player in men’s tennis and its leading vaccine skeptic, was stopped at the border in Melbourne late Wednesday after flying from Dubai to defend his Australian Open title.
Australian tennis officials and the state government had granted Mr. Djokovic an exemption to Covid vaccination rules, which would allow him to participate in the event. But upon his arrival, federal border officials said that Mr. Djokovic did not meet the country’s requirements for entry because he was unvaccinated, and they canceled his visa. On Thursday, he filed a legal appeal.
The exemption had stirred anger in Australia, which has enforced tough rules to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and has maintained one of the world’s lowest Covid death rates. People who were locked up for long periods and restricted from leaving or returning to Australia for months demanded to know if Mr. Djokovic was given any special treatment.
Mr. Djokovic’s limbo appears to be rooted in confusion over the exemption granted by Australian tennis officials and local authorities in Victoria, the state where the tournament is held. The exemption was believed to have been approved because of Mr. Djokovic’s previous coronavirus infections — grounds that federal officials had warned were invalid.
Here’s a look at how the standoff has unfolded:
Djokovic has been controversial for his views on science, medicine, and politics.
Mr. Djokovic has been criticized for his unscientific beliefs. He claimed that positive emotions can purify water and food. He was dismissive of the pandemic, and said that vaccinations should not be required for travel.
He organized a charity tournament in Serbia and Croatia in June 2020 after tennis and other sports were halted by the coronavirus. Social distancing and masks were minimal and many players, including Mr. Djokovic later tested positive for coronavirus.
He was surprised to be exempted from the title, giving him an opportunity to defend it.
Mr. Djokovic won the Australian Opens three times and nine overall. His vaccine stance made it difficult for him to defend his title.
Last year, the Australian Open required that all participants be fully vaccinated. This was in line with the country’s entry requirements. Mr. Djokovic’s participation was seen as unlikely until he announced on Tuesday that he would play after receiving an exemption.
He didn’t explain why he was granted the exemption, nor did Australian tennis officials. They explained that 26 people who had requested a vaccine waiver had their requests reviewed and approved by panels of medical professionals from Tennis Australia as well as the state of Victoria. A few were granted.
The government advisory body for vaccinations reviewed the requests. The group suggested several reasons for exemptions. These included a Covid-19 infected within the last six month, inflammatory cardiac disease, and acute medical conditions such major surgery.
Mr. Djokovic’s application was based on a recent infection, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.
The federal government intervenes, stopping Djokovic at border.
Mr. Djokovic’s exemption was denounced by many in Australia as the Omicron variant has driven a jump in new cases and residents have faced long delays in testing.
The Coronavirus Pandemic: Key Information
The global surge. The virus is spreading faster than ever at the start of 2022, but the last days of 2021 brought the encouraging news that the Omicron variant produces less severe illness than earlier waves. Therefore, governments are focusing more attention on expanding vaccination rather than limiting spread.
After Mr. Djokovic arrived to Melbourne, he was interviewed for hours at airport before being sent into a quarantine hotel. Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia, who has faced criticism over the government’s Covid response in recent days, announced that Mr. Djokovic’s entry had been denied.
“Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders,” Mr. Morrison wrote on Twitter. “No one is above these rules.”
Greg Hunt, Australia’s health secretary, stated in November to Craig Tiley (head of Tennis Australia) that people who have contracted Covid-19 and were not fully vaccinated would not be eligible for quarantine-free entry.
Mr. Hunt added that the grounds for an exemption, such as a recent infection, are meant “for domestic purposes only — such as interstate travel, or meeting workplace vaccination requirements — and does not apply in the context of international borders.”
It was unclear why Tennis Australia and Victoria granted Mr. Djokovic this exemption.
Mr. Morrison said on Thursday that there had “not necessarily” been any problem with Australia’s initial granting of a visa to Mr. Djokovic, and that it was up to travelers with visas to show proof of full vaccination at the border.
Djokovic appeals to the courts
Mr. Djokovic appealed to the federal court in Victoria. He will be allowed to stay in the country at most until Monday while he waits for a hearing. It was not clear whether quarantine was still an option or if Mr. Djokovic would consent to it. The tournament starts in 11 days, sooner than Australia’s usual two-week quarantine.
Source: NY Times