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Australian government says Djokovic did not have guaranteed entry to the country

Randy Mancini 7 Jan 9
FILE PHOTO: The scene outside the hotel where tennis player Novak Djokovic is believed to be in Melbourne
FILE PHOTO: A supporter of Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic rallies outside the Park Hotel, where the star athlete is believed to be held while he stays in Australia, in Melbourne, Australia, January 7, 2022. REUTERS/Loren Elliott/File Photo

January 9, 2022

By Courtney Walsh and Byron Kaye

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – The Australian government had not given tennis star Novak Djokovic an assurance that a medical exemption he said he had to enter Australia without a COVID-19 vaccination would be accepted, government lawyers said in a court filing on Sunday.

The filing ahead of a court hearing on Monday was in defence of the government’s decision to bar entry to the world number one player over his COVID-19 vaccination status.

Djokovic is hoping to win his 21st Grand Slam at the Australian Open, starting in Melbourne on Jan. 17. But instead of training he has been confined in a hotel used for asylum seekers. He is challenging the decision to cancel his visa after being stopped on arrival at Melbourne Airport early on Thursday.

A vocal opponent of vaccine mandates, Djokovic had declined to reveal his vaccination status or reason for seeking a medical exemption from Australia’s vaccine rules. But his legal team said in a filing to the court on Saturday that the Serbian had been granted an exemption due to contracting and recovering from the virus in December.

The Djokovic filing said the player had received an assessment from the Department of Home Affairs that his responses on his Australia Traveller Declaration indicated he met the requirements for quarantine-free entry into the country.

But the government’s submission said the department’s email was not an assurance “that his so-called ‘medical exemption’ would be accepted”, and his responses could be questioned and verified on his arrival.

The government submission also challenged Djokovic’s claim for a medical exemption from Australia’s vaccination requirements on the basis he contracted COVID-19 in mid-December.

“There is no suggestion that the applicant had “acute major medical illness” in December 2021. All he has said is that he tested positive for COVID-19,” the government submission said.

The drama over Djokovic has rocked world tennis, caused tensions between Serbia and Australia and become a flashpoint for opponents of vaccine mandates around the world.

(Reporting by Courtney Walsh in Melbourne and Byron Kaye in Sydney; Writing by John Mair and Frances Kerry; Editing by Paul Simao, William Mallard and Ana Nicolaci da Costa, Elaine Hardcastle)