Novak Djokovic included in Australian Open draw as visa saga continues

MELBOURNE, Australia – The Australian Prime Minister said on Thursday that his government’s strict policy towards visitors who were not vaccinated for Covid-19 had not changed, as he prepares to make the decision to kick out Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic.

The men’s tennis No.1 saw his visa revoked upon arriving in Melbourne last week when his vaccination exemption was challenged, but he won a legal battle over procedural reasons that allowed him to stay in the country. He still faces the prospect of deportation – a decision which is entirely at the discretion of Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke if deemed to be in the public interest for health and safety reasons.

Despite the cloud over Djokovic’s ability to compete, organizers of the Australian Open have included the seed in the draw. He is set to face fellow Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic, ranked world No.78, in the first round.

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia’s policy on Covid-19 vaccinations has not changed since the country’s border was opened to non-quarantine travel a month ago.

Non-citizens had to prove they were doubly vaccinated or “provide acceptable proof that they cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons,” Morrison said.

“This is the policy and of course we would expect the authorities to implement the policy,” Morrison said.

Djokovic is not vaccinated. His argument for an exemption is based on evidence that he was diagnosed with Covid-19 in Serbia last month and has since recovered.

Hawke has been examining the issue of Djokovic’s deportation since a judge reinstated the 34-year-old’s visa on Monday.

Morrison would not give any indication of how long the decision might take, with Djokovic planning to defend his Australian Open title from Monday.

Morrison referred to Hawke’s statement on Wednesday that Djokovic’s lawyers recently filed other documents affecting the decision timeframe.

“These are personal ministerial powers that can be exercised by Minister Hawke and I do not propose to make any further comments at this time,” Morrison said.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said most Australians disapprove of the nine-time and reigning Australian Open champion coming to Melbourne to compete in violation of the country’s strict pandemic quarantine rules.

“Most of us thought because Mr. Djokovic hadn’t been vaxxed twice that he would be asked to leave,” Joyce said. “Well, that was our point of view, but it was not the court’s point of view. “

Debate over Djokovic’s presence in Australia rages amid a surge in Covid-19 infections across the country.

About half of Australia’s cases since the start of the pandemic have been diagnosed in the past two weeks.

The state of Victoria, which hosts the Australian Open, on Thursday relaxed the seven-day isolation rules for close contact of those infected in sectors such as education and transport to reduce the number of ’employees who stay out of work.

The state recorded 37,169 new cases in the last 24-hour period on Thursday, as well as 25 deaths and 953 hospitalizations.

Ticket sales for the tennis tournament have been limited to reduce the risk of transmission.

In a statement posted to his social media accounts on Wednesday, the tennis star blamed his support team’s “human error” for failing to say he had traveled in the two weeks prior to entering Australia.

Giving false information on the form could be grounds for expulsion. The first news that Djokovic had been granted an exemption to enter the country sparked an uproar and the ensuing dispute has since eclipsed preparations for the Australian Open.

Djokovic remains in limbo ahead of the start of the first major tennis tournament of the year on Monday. The stakes are particularly high as he is aiming for a 21st men’s Grand Slam singles title.

The expulsion could result in penalties of up to a three-year ban on entering Australia, an intimidating prospect for a player who has won nearly half of his 20 Grand Slam singles titles here.

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