Saturday, 22 January, 2022
E-paper

Djokovic tested positive for Covid in December, court documents show

Novak Djokovic was granted a medical exemption to compete in the Australian Open as he had recently recovered from Covid-19, court documents published on Saturday by Australia's Federal Circuit show.

The development comes as the tennis World No. 1 is confined to a hotel in Melbourne as he mounts a desperate legal challenge against the revocation of his visa ahead of the tournament.

"Mr Djokovic had received, on 30 December 2021, a letter from the Chief Medical Officer of Tennis Australia recording that he had been provided with a 'Medical exemption from COVID vaccination' on the grounds that he had recently recovered from COVID," the document said.

Djokovic's first Covid-positive PCR test was recorded on December 16, 2021, and after not showing signs of a fever or "respiratory symptoms" he applied for a medical exemption to compete in the Australian Open, according to the document.

The 34-year-old -- who has previously criticized Covid-19 vaccine mandates -- was granted a medical exemption to compete in the tournament unvaccinated "on the grounds that he had recently recovered from COVID," his lawyers said in a court submission Saturday.

The documents, which have been submitted to the court ahead of Djokovic's hearing Monday, confirmed the player was unvaccinated when he arrived in Australia on January 5.

After being questioned by the Australian Border Force, the submission states that Djokovic's exemption was determined to be invalid under Australia's BioSecurity Act because his "previous infection with COVID-19 is not considered a medical contraindication for Covid-19 vaccination in Australia."

A "medical contraindication" is granted in specific situations where a drug, procedure, vaccine, or surgery should not be used because it may be harmful to a person's health.

Djokovic's visa was then canceled on January 6 at 4:11 am local time, under Section 116(1)(e) of the Migration Act, which "allows for the cancellation of a visa where the holder poses a risk to the health, safety or good order of the Australian community, or to an individual within the Australian community."

Djokovic's lawyers argued in the submission that the nine-time Australian Open champion had every reason to believe he would be granted entry into the country as he "held a visa unqualified by any relevant condition ... had received certification of a medical exemption from vaccination from the tournament organizer ... and had received from the Department of Home Affairs a document informing him that he met the requirements for quarantine-free arrival."

The "letter from the Department of Home Affairs" referenced by Djokovic's lawyers concerns the Australian Travel Declaration (ATD) form, which is a standard document that must be filled in by all passengers arriving in the country at least 72 hours before departure.

According to the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation's Expanded Guidance on temporary medical exemptions for Covid-19 vaccines, an exemption can be granted for visa holders in some cases involving a "PCR-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection, where vaccination can be deferred until 6 months after the infection."

However, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters Thursday that Tennis Australia was advised in a letter as far back as November 2021 that unvaccinated players with a recent Covid-19 infection would not be allowed to enter the country.

Djokovic hasn't publicly revealed his vaccination status, but in a news conference on Thursday, Morrison said the 34-year-old "didn't have a valid medical exemption" to the vaccination requirement for arrivals into the country.

Djokovic's legal team sought an urgent injunction against the Australian Border Forces' decision to revoke his visa. The country's Federal Court has adjourned the decision until Monday on whether he will be allowed to remain in Australia or be deported, according to Reuters and public broadcaster ABC.

A number of fellow players have lent their support to Djokovic while the visa saga remains ongoing, including Australia's Nick Kyrgios and the USA's John Isner.

In his native Serbia, meanwhile, the Djokovic family staged a protest in front of the country's National Assembly in Belgrade earlier this week. Djokovic's father, Srdan, said authorities were holding his son as a "captive" -- a claim Australia's home affairs minister Karen Andrews denied.

"He is free to leave at any time that he chooses to do so, and Border Force will actually facilitate that," Andrews told ABC on Friday

"It is the individual traveler's responsibility to make sure that they have in place all the necessary documentation that is needed to enter Australia."