Covid-19: Australian judge raises concerns about Djokovic's airport interview

'Djokovic had clearly declared he had a medical contraindication that exempted him from the requirement to be double vaccinated'



Agencies file
Agencies file

By Reuters

Published: Mon 10 Jan 2022, 7:47 AM

The judge hearing Novak Djokovic's legal challenge to the Australian government's decision to revoke the star tennis player's entry visa raised several concerns on Monday about how the Serbian was treated by border officials on arrival.

Judge Anthony Kelly said it appeared Djokovic had received the required medical exemption before he travelled to Australia and presented evidence of that on his arrival at Melbourne's airport on Wednesday evening.

"The point that I am somewhat agitated about is what more could this man have done?" Kelly said as Djokovic's lawyers outlined their case challenging the federal government's decision to revoke the player's visa at the airport.

Djokovic, who has been held in an immigration detention hotel since his visa was revoked, argues that a recent Covid-19 infection qualified him for the medical exemption from Australia's requirement for all visitors to be double vaccinated.

The Australian government, however, said non-citizens had no right of guaranteed entry to Australia and stressed that even if the Serbian won the court action, it reserved the right to detain him again and remove him from the country.

The government's decision to cancel Djokovic's visa potentially scuppers his shot at winning a record 21st Grand Slam at the Australian Open, which starts in Melbourne on January 17.

Exchanges between Kelly and Djokovic's lawyer Nicholas Wood also revealed that officials made the world number one switch off his phone from midnight to around 7.42am local time, when the decision to cancel his visa was made. Officials reneged on an agreement to give him until 8.30am to speak to tournament organiser Tennis Australia, Wood said, and dissuaded him from waiting to speak to lawyers.

Wood said Djokovic had clearly declared he had a medical contraindication that exempted him from the requirement to be double vaccinated and, even though he was not required to, had provided evidence to support that claim both before boarding his flight to Australia and on arrival.

Technical issues that delayed the start of the virtual hearing in the Federal Circuit and Family Court also intermittently affected a planned live-stream of the session for the public.

PROTESTERS, SUPPORTERS

Instead of training for the Australian Open, Djokovic has been confined in a hotel used for asylum seekers since Thursday.

A handful of supporters, one carrying the Serbian flag, gathered outside the hotel on Monday morning, alongside several more activists protesting the detainment of refugees who have been held there for months.

Crowds of Djokovic's supporters had gathered outside the hotel over the weekend, dancing to traditional music and cheering. French newspaper L'Equipe published a photograph of Djokovic taken when he was named the daily's Champion of Champions in the days after he said in a court filing he had tested positive for coronavirus, December 16. Other photographs published on social media showed him appearing at functions in Serbia on dates soon after that test.

It was not clear if Djokovic knew of his positive test at the time of the events shown in the pictures.

Djokovic, 34, has won the Australian Open nine times and the drama over his refused entry has caused a furore in sporting circles, sparked tensions between Serbia and Australia and become a flashpoint for opponents of vaccine mandates around the world.

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'NO RESPECT'

Djokovic's father addressed a small protest in front of Serbia's parliament building in Belgrade on Sunday.

"Are we animals? What are we? We're human beings. This is happening because we are just a small part of the world, but we are proud. They have no respect for him."

Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley said in his first media interview since the furore began that his organisation had spoken with federal and state officials for months to ensure the safe passage of players.

Czech player Renata Voracova, who was detained in the same detention hotel as Djokovic and had her visa revoked after issues with her vaccine exemption, left the country without challenging her status, the Czech Foreign Ministry said.


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