Novak Djokovic is being held in a guarded isolation room at Melbourne airport after officials discovered the tennis star’s team bungled his visa application to play in the Tennis Open without being vaccinated.
The world No. 1’s father Srdjan said two police officers are stationed outside the room and nobody is allowed to enter apart from Novak.
He landed at Melbourne on an Emirates flight from Dubai at around 11.15pm, hours after Prime Minister Scott Morrison threatened to send the Serb back ‘on the next plane home’ if he could not provide evidence for his vaccine exemption.
Other previous visa disputes such as his have seen travellers detained at the airport before being sent on a flight back to their country of origin.
The 34-year-old was snagged at customs after a member of his team made a critical mistake in requesting a sub-class of visa that does not apply to tennis players, sources told The Sydney Morning Herald.
Border Force contacted the Victoria government earlier on Wednesday after finding that the tennis star’s team had submitted a visa which does not allow medical exemptions for being unvaccinated.
This kind of work visa would need the support of the Victorian government for approval, but they reportedly refused when asked by border agents, saying that visa applications were a matter for Morrison’s government.
While Djokovic had been granted a medical exemption from a Covid jab by two independent health panels, approval for the visa is a separate process.
It is not clear what course of action remains open to the anti-vaxxer athlete, who has never revealed whether he has received a Covid jab.
Acting Victoria Sports Minister Jaala Pulford sent a late-night tweet confirming that Victoria was not supporting Djokovic’s visa application.
‘The Federal Government has asked if we will support Novak Djokovic’s visa application to enter Australia. We will not be providing Novak Djokovic with individual visa application support to participate in the 2022 Australian Open Grand Slam,’ the tweet said.
Pulford continued: ‘We’ve always been clear on two points: visa approvals are a matter for the Federal Government, and medical exemptions are a matter for doctors.’
It is not yet clear whether he has been allowed to pass through border control and enter the country. The Border Force have yet to comment.
His announcement that he had received a medical exemption to play provoked outrage in Melbourne, which has endured the world’s longest cumulative lockdown and where an outbreak of the Omicron variant has sent case numbers to record levels.
Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic is due to arrive in Melbourne tonight to defend his Grand Slam title, 24 hours after he announced on social media he had received an exemption to play in the tournament and was heading to Australia
The world No. 1’s father Srdjan (pictured) said two police officers are stationed outside the isolation room and nobody is allowed to enter apart from Novak
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has warned Djokovic ‘won’t be treated any different to anyone else’ and will be banned from entering the country if evidence of his medical exemption from the Covid-19 vaccine is deemed ‘insufficient’
Acting Sports Minister Jaala Pulford sent a late-night tweet confirming that Victoria was not supporting Djokovic’s visa application
When are medical exemptions given?
Australia’s Department of Health says medical exemptions are handed out if the individual has an ‘acute major medical condition’.
Under the guidelines, these conditions could include:
– Inflammatory cardiac illness in the last three months
– Undergoing major surgery or hospital admission for a serious illness
– A Covid-19 diagnosis that means vaccination cannot be made for six months
– Any serious effect to a Covid-19 vaccine in the past (Note: Djokovic has not confirmed whether or not he has been jabbed)
– If the vaccine is a risk to themselves or others during the vaccination process
– Underlying developmental or mental health disorders
Australia’s Deputy Premier James Merlino said last month that medical exemptions are ‘not a loophole’.
‘Medical exemptions are just that,’ he said. ‘It’s not a loophole for privileged tennis players.
‘They are medical exemptions in exceptional circumstances – if you have acute medical conditions.’
Australians, many of whom have been separated from loved ones overseas for months, had reacted with fury over news Djokovic had been granted exemption.
It was seen as an even more bitter pill to swallow due to the 34-year-old’s anti-vax views, including saying that he is ‘opposed to vaccination’ in April 2020.
In November, he lashed out at the media for attacking his vaccination status, saying ‘propaganda is spread that suits the elite or a certain group of people.’
But Australian PM Morrison told a press conference on Wednesday: ‘There should be no special rules for Novak Djokovic at all. None whatsoever… We await his presentation and what evidence he provides us to support that.’
Tennis Australia and Victoria state had earlier said Djokovic was one of a ‘handful’ of successful applicants among 26 people who sought exemptions from being vaccinated, but had not received any special treatment in the application process.
The decision sparked sharp criticism in Australia, where more than 90 per cent of over-16s are doubled jabbed, with fans threatening to boycott the annual tournament over the perceived special treatment of the nine-times champion.
‘My view is that any individual seeking to enter Australia must comply with our border requirements,’ Mr Morrison told reporters at a press conference today.
‘Now Novak Djokovic, when he arrives in Australia, he has to if he’s not vaccinated, must provide acceptable proof that he cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons to be able to access the same travel arrangements as fully vaccinated travellers.
‘So we await his presentation and what evidence he provides us to support that. If that evidence is insufficient, then he will be treated no different to anyone else and he’ll be on the next plane home.’
He added that any exemption given to Djokovic will still have to stack up upon arrival in Australia.
‘There are other cases – there are quite a number over the last couple of years – where people have had these exemptions and have the suitable proof to support their claim in those circumstances,’ Mr Morrison said.
‘So the circumstance is not unique. The issue is whether he has sufficient evidence to support that he would qualify for the exemption.’
The grounds for Djokovic’s exemption under the ATAGI guidelines have remained private but the tennis star faces growing calls to personally explain how he got approval to enter Australia to contest the tournament without showing his vaccination status.
The Serbian, who has declined to reveal his vaccination status, said previously that he was unsure whether he would compete at the January 17-30 tournament in Melbourne due to concerns over Australia’s quarantine rules.
The state of usually Victoria does not allow unvaccinated people to enter unless they go through a mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine, but on Tuesday the Serbian tennis star announced on social media he was flying to Melbourne after securing a medical exemption.
In a tweet Djokovic wrote: ‘Happy New Year! Wishing you all health, love & joy in every moment & may you feel love & respect towards all beings on this wonderful planet.
‘I’ve spent fantastic quality time with loved ones over break & today I’m heading Down Under with an exemption permission. Let’s go 2022.’
Since he has been granted an exemption, he will not have to enter two weeks of hotel quarantine – like un-vaccinated arrivals must.
Instead, Djokovic will have to follow the same rules as fully-vaccinated travellers – taking a PCR test on arrival and isolating until the result comes through.
Serbia fans show their support for tennis World No1 Novak Djokovic with national flags and a t-shirt reading ‘Novak against the world’ ahead of the star’s arrival in Melbourne tonight
Serbia fans display their flag in support of Novak Djokovic during the group stage match between Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut and Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic ahead of the main draw of the Australian Open next month
The grounds for Djokovic’s (pictured at the 2021 Australian Open) exemption under the ATAGI guidelines have remained private but the tennis star faces growing calls to personally explain how he got approval
Furious fans have taken to social media to voice the anger over the decision, with many threatening to boycott the tournament next month in response.
One user wrote: ‘For the first time in decades I will not be watching the tennis. Novak Djokovic should not be given an exemption.
‘I hate the one rule for the rest of us, and another rule for the favoured few.’
While another commented: ‘So vaccinated Australians weren’t allowed to cross state borders to see their dying loved ones but Novak Djokovic is allowed to come here (possibly unvaccinated) from overseas to hit a tennis ball. Unbelievable.’
Another person added: ‘After everything that Victorians have been through, Novak Djokovic getting a vaccine exemption is nothing short of a kick in the guts. All those lockdowns, all that suffering. Seriously?’
Elsewhere another person said: ‘Watching the Australian Open every January is my favourite sports viewing.
‘The decision to allow Novak Djokovic to participate when he’s unvaccinated means I must boycott your telecast this year. Utterly appalled by this.’
The move has also outraged many Australians, who have been told they cannot re-enter their own country unless they’re fully vaccinated or face two weeks in strict hotel quarantine, with many already expressing their fury online.
Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley said the two-stage application process was confidential and run by independent experts from government health authorities on two separate medical panels.
It is usually anonymous but it is understood Djokovic’s waived his right to anonymity.
All applications were assessed to ensure any exemptions met conditions set out by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI).
Tiley said those reasons included previous adverse response to vaccines, recent major surgery or myocarditis or certified evidence of a Covid infection in the previous six months – any ‘acute major medical condition’.
Currently vaccination exemptions are only handed out in Australia to people who have had anaphylaxis after a previous vaccine or an ingredient in the provided jabs.
People who are immunocompromised can also receive an exemption in some circumstances.
‘We completely understand and empathise with … people being upset about the fact that Novak has come in because of his statements over the past couple of years around vaccination,’ Tiley told reporters.
‘However it is ultimately up to him to discuss with the public his condition, if he chooses to do that, and the reasons why he received an exemption.’
Melbourne had the world’s longest cumulative lockdown to contain Covid, and an outbreak of the Omicron variant has sent case numbers to record levels.
‘I think lots of people in the Victorian community will find this to be a disappointing outcome,’ acting Victorian Sports Minister Jaala Pulford told a media conference earlier on Wednesday after news of Djokovic’s exemption.
‘But the process is the process; nobody has had special treatment. The process is incredibly robust.’
Queensland senator Matt Canavan said letting Djokovic play in the first grand slam of the year posed ‘little risk’ because the tennis star had contracted Covid-19 before.
Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley said the two-stage exemption application process was confidential, anonymous and run by independent experts from government health authorities on two separate medical panels
‘Natural immunity by multiple studies is much, much stronger than the immunity you get from having a vaccination,’ Mr Canavan said on the Today show on Wednesday.
‘So there’s little risk here in letting Novak Djokovic in.’
Djokovic contracted Covid-19 while hosting a party in the middle of the pandemic and has never explicitly revealed if he is or isn’t jabbed.
The senator said on a ‘practical ground’ the player was unlikely to cripple Victoria’s health system after the state recorded 14,000 cases and 516 people in hospital.
‘Yes, some of us would love to see rules apply literally and constantly. But I think some of these rules are temporary,’ Mr Canavan said.
‘We’ve got to get back to a sensible world here and move on with life and thankfully, with the seemingly less lethal Omicron variant, I think we’re very close to that, and here perhaps is just another small step to ending the pandemic and returning, as I say, to the land of common sense.’
The Australian Open tournament begins on January 17 and the ATP has revealed that 95 out of the top 100 men’s players have been vaccinated.
Djokovic will be joined in the Melbourne tournament by Grand Slam title rival Rafael Nadal, who touched down in Australia recently and is level with the Serbian on 20 major tournament wins.
Nadal tested positive for coronavirus just before Christmas, putting his Australian Open participation in doubt, but travelled Down Under after the festive period and was seen preparing ahead of the tournament on Tuesday.
Roger Federer, who also has 20 Grand Slams to his name, will miss this year’s Australian Open tournament through injury.
Meanwhile, Djokovic may have similar issues in getting permission to play in other Grand Slam tournaments this season.
Last month, France announced that any unvaccinated players from other countries cannot compete in professional sport, raising doubts about whether he can compete at Roland Garros.
Whether the restrictions put in by president Emmanuel Macron last month will still be in place by the time the tournament starts in May 2022 is still unclear – but the rules are set to impact Chelsea’s Champions League trip to Lille and England’s Six Nations match in France, in February and March respectively.
Djokovic may also have some difficulties playing at Wimbledon if his vaccination status is not cleared up by the summer as currently, any unvaccinated person must quarantine for 10 days and take PCR tests on days two and eight.
The tennis player will also need a negative coronavirus test before travelling to England, under the current guidelines.
Australia’s Prime Minister has said tennis World No1 Novak Djokovic will ‘be on the next plane home’ if he cannot explain his ‘medical exemption’ from being vaccinated that allows him to play in the Australian Open
Rafael Nadal has travelled to Australia despite testing positive for coronavirus last month