Australia nears decision on whether to deport Djokovic

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Australia’s prime minister said on Thursday his government’s tough policy towards visitors who were not vaccinated against COVID-19 has not changed as a decision to deport Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic draws near.

The men’s tennis No. 1 had his visa canceled on his arrival in Melbourne last week when his vaccination exemption was called into question, but he won a procedural legal battle that allowed him to remain in the country.

He still faces the prospect of deportation, a decision entirely at the discretion of Australia’s Immigration Minister Alex Hawke if it is deemed in the public interest for health and safety reasons. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia’s policy on COVID-19 vaccines has not changed since the country’s border first opened to quarantine-free travel a month ago.

Noncitizens had to prove they were twice vaccinated or “provide acceptable proof that they cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons,” Morrison said.

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

Djokovic is not vaccinated. His argument for a waiver is based on evidence that he was diagnosed with COVID-19 in Serbia last month and has since recovered. Hawke has been considering the issue of Djokovic’s deportation since a judge reinstated the 34-year-old’s visa on Monday.

Morrison gave no indication of how long the decision might take, as Djokovic plans to defend his Australian Open title from Monday. Morrison referred to Hawke’s statement on Wednesday that Djokovic’s lawyers had recently filed more documents that affected the timeline for a decision.

“These are personal ministerial powers that may be exercised by Minister Hawke and I do not propose to make any further comment at this time,” Morrison said. Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said most Australians disapproved of the nine-time defending Australian Open champion coming to Melbourne to compete in breach of the nation’s strict pandemic quarantine rules.

“Most of us thought that because Mr. Djokovic had not been vaccinated twice, he would be asked to leave,” Joyce said. “Well, that was our opinion, but it was not the opinion of the court.”

“The vast majority of Australians … didn’t like the idea that someone else, whether it’s a tennis player, the King of Spain or the Queen of England, could come here and have a different set of rules than they do.” others. he has to deal with,” Joyce added.

The debate over Djokovic’s presence in Australia is taking place against a backdrop of rising COVID-19 infections across the country. About half of Australia’s cases since the pandemic began had been diagnosed in the last two weeks.

The state of Victoria, which hosts the Australian Open, on Thursday eased seven-day isolation rules for close contacts of infected people in sectors including education and transport to curb the number of employees absent from work. .

The state recorded 37,169 new cases in the latest 24-hour period 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 her social media accounts on Wednesday, the tennis star blamed “human error” by his support team for not declaring that he had traveled in the two-week period before entering Australia. . Giving false information on the form could be grounds for deportation. The initial news that Djokovic was granted a waiver to enter the country sparked protests and the ensuing feud has overshadowed the run up to the Australian Open.

Djokovic remains in limbo before the first major of the year begins on Monday. The stakes are high as he is seeking a record 21 Grand Slam men’s singles titles. Deportation could result in sanctions ranging up to a three-year ban from entering Australia, a daunting prospect for a player who has won almost half of his 20 Grand Slam singles titles here.

Court documents detailing Djokovic’s positive test sparked speculation that he attended events in his native Serbia last month. More questions were also raised about errors on his immigration form that could result in his visa being canceled once again.

On the form, Djokovic said that he had not traveled in the 14 days prior to his flight to Australia, despite having been seen in Spain and Serbia in that period.

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In his statement, Djokovic described the recent comments as “hurtful” and said he wanted to address them in order to “alleviate the community’s wider concern about my presence in Australia.” The question is whether Djokovic has a valid exemption since he recently recovered from COVID-19. His exemption to compete was approved by the Victorian state government and Tennis Australia, the tournament organiser. That apparently allowed him to receive a visa to travel.

But the Australian Border Force refused the waiver and canceled his visa on arrival before a federal judge reversed that decision. Government lawyers have said an infection was only grounds for exemption in cases where the coronavirus caused serious illness, though it’s unclear why he was issued a visa if that’s the case.

If Djokovic’s visa is cancelled, his lawyers could go back to court to request an injunction that would prevent him from being forced to leave the country. Sydney-based immigration lawyer Simon Jeans said that if Djokovic’s visa were cancelled, he would likely be kept in immigration detention. Djokovic could apply for a bridging visa to compete in the tournament pending the appeal.

The immigration department would have two business days to decide on that request. If Djokovic were denied that visa, an appeal would normally take weeks, Jeans said.

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