Novak Djokovic claims he was cleared into Australia due to recent COVID infection

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The Serbian player is on his third day of immigration detention in Melbourne

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MELBOURNE – World tennis number one Novak Djokovic said in a court challenge to being refused entry to Australia on Saturday that he had been granted a medical exemption from COVID-19 vaccination because ‘he had contracted the disease last month.

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In a court file ahead of a hearing on Monday regarding his visa cancellation, Djokovic said he had received the exemption from the organizer of the Tennis Australia tournament, with a follow-up letter from the Home Office saying that he was allowed to enter the country.

The Serbian player, who hopes to win his 21st Grand Slam at the Australian Open later this month, is on his third day of immigration detention in Melbourne – a case that has sparked sporting, political and diplomatic fury .

A staunch opponent of vaccination warrants, Djokovic has been confined since Thursday to a modest hotel after his visa was canceled due to problems with the medical exemption from the country’s immigration requirement for the coronavirus vaccination he he presented.

The drama has caused tensions between Serbia and Australia and has also become a flashpoint for opponents of vaccination mandates around the world.

“I explained that I had recently been infected with COVID in December 2021 and on that basis I was entitled to medical exemption in accordance with Australian government rules and guidelines,” Djokovic said in the file on his experience of detention at Melbourne airport.

Djokovic said he told Australian border force officers that “I had correctly completed my Australian travel declaration and fulfilled all the conditions necessary to legally enter Australia on my visa”.

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Djokovic had his first positive test for COVID-19 on December 16, but as of December 30 “had not had a fever or respiratory symptoms of COVID-19 in the past 72 hours,” the file says.

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On January 1, he was said to have received a Home Affairs document telling him that his responses indicated that he met “the requirements for a non-quarantine arrival in Australia”.

The federal court ordered Home Affairs to file its response by Sunday.

The Border Force, an internal affairs unit, did not respond to a request for comment from Reuters on Saturday.

The Australian Open starts on January 17th.

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Many countries allow recent COVID infection as a ground for exemption from vaccine requirements. The Australian Federal Government issued a letter shortly after Djokovic’s arrival showing that he had informed Tennis Australia that this was not necessarily the case in the country.

The federal and state governments of Victoria and Tennis Australia have denied any responsibility in the dispute.

Meanwhile, Czech player Renata Voracova, who was being held in the same detention hotel as Djokovic and whose visa was revoked after problems with her exemption, left the country on Saturday, the Czech Foreign Ministry said.

The ministry said she left “on the basis of her own decision to end her participation in the tournament due to complications with her visas,” adding: “The decision was not based on her expulsion from the country” .

Djokovic’s court record confirmed a press report that he requested to be moved to accommodation with access to a tennis court but that his request was rejected. The Park Hotel, where he stays, is also home to dozens of asylum seekers trying to enter the country.

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Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said the player received gluten-free food, tools for exercise and a SIM card.

“He stays at the Park Hotel until the final decision is made,” Brnabic told Serbian media.

“We were able to make sure he got gluten-free food, along with exercise tools, a laptop and a SIM card so he could be in touch with his family. “

“It’s a positive tone on the Australian side. The Serbian government is ready to provide all the guarantees necessary for Novak to be allowed to enter Australia, the Serbian President (Aleksandar Vucic) is also involved, ”Brnabic said.

The player’s family have expressed support in recent days and his father, Srdjan Djokovic, said on Saturday he was “disgusted” with his son’s treatment in Australia.

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“He feels love, it’s a mental rock. If the court decides he must leave Australia, he will leave. If he decides he can stay, he will stay. But politicians will not decide the fate of the best athlete in the world of all time, ”he said on Saturday at a rally in front of the parliament in Belgrade, in the presence of a large number of people.

Djokovic’s file indicated that he had expressed “shock,” surprise “and” confusion “when he was detained overnight, and that he had prepared a bed near his interrogation room in the room. airport so that he can rest while waiting for the morning when he can reach legal representatives. and Tennis Australia, the record says.

Customs officials ultimately “pressured” Djokovic to undertake an interview before he spoke to either of them, according to the filing.

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Tennis Australia said it never knowingly misled players and always urged players to get vaccinated, after News Corp newspapers released a document from the host body apparently advising players on means of entering the country with a medical exemption from vaccination.

“We completely reject the fact that the group of players was knowingly misled,” Tennis Australia said in a statement quoted by local media.

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Tennis Australia’s advice was based on content from a federal government website to which it had been referred by the Federal Minister of Health, the statement added.

Tennis Australia did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.

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