Novak Djokovic: Why is tennis star being denied entry to Australia – and what are their travel rules?

Novak Djokovic sparked outrage this week when he revealed he was being exempted from COVID vaccination rules to play in the Australian Open.

On Tuesday, the 34-year-old defending champion said he was “heading Down Under with an exemption permission” ahead of the grand slam tournament which begins on 17 January.

But on arrival at Melbourne airport on Wednesday, the Serbian tennis star was held for about eight hours by border officials who cancelled his visa and refused to allow him to enter the country.

They said he failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet Australia’s entry requirements and he faces deportation.

His legal team is appealing the decision, which will be made by a judge at 10am on Monday.

Here Sky News looks at Australia‘s border restrictions and why Djokovic has had his visa cancelled.

Is Djokovic vaccinated?

The world number one has repeatedly refused to reveal whether he has been vaccinated against coronavirus or not.

While he has said he is “not against vaccines of any kind”, he claims: “My issue here with vaccines is if someone is forcing me to put something in my body. That I don’t want. For me that’s unacceptable.”

In a Facebook live discussion with other Serbian athletes, he added: “Personally I am opposed to vaccination and I wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel.”

But he said he would “have to make a decision” if they become compulsory.

Djokovic contracted coronavirus in June 2020 after the Adria Tour he organised around Serbia and Croatia was criticised for a lack of COVID protocols and was ultimately cancelled due to an outbreak of cases.

What was the reason for his exemption?

The state government in Victoria, where Melbourne Park is located, mandated full vaccinations for all players, staff and fans at the Australian Open unless there is a genuine medical reason.

Tennis Australia said Djokovic’s request for an exemption “was granted following a rigorous review process involving two separate independent panels of medical experts”. The reason he sought an exemption has not been revealed.

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said 26 players or support staff applied for exemptions and a “handful” were granted.

Among the acceptable grounds were acute major medical conditions, serious adverse reaction to a previous dose of a COVID vaccine or evidence of a coronavirus infection within the previous six months.

Do you have to be vaccinated to enter Australia?

According to the Australian Department of Health: “For travel into and out of Australia, travellers must provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination status.”

Proof of two vaccine doses can be shown using the International COVID-19 Vaccine Certificate, it adds.

The only exemptions are children aged 11 and under and those who “can’t get any of the approved COVID-19 vaccines for medical reasons”.

If you have been vaccinated overseas, the jab you had must be on the Australian regulator’s approved list – which includes Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna, Janssen and Sinovac.

The Australian border only reopened in late 2021 in line with the country’s strict restrictions for containing the virus and stopping cases being imported from abroad. They have meant thousands of families being kept apart for almost two years.

Now you can only travel there if you have an exemption.

Australian citizens, permanent residents, New Zealand citizens usually resident in Australia, and their family members are all automatically exempt – but they still must be vaccinated.

From 15 December 2021, “fully-vaccinated holders of eligible visas” have been allowed entry, as well as those granted individual exemptions.

According to the Department of Health website: “Individual exemptions can be requested by travellers who are not holders of an eligible visa or who are unvaccinated, holding any visa type.”

Reasons for individual exemptions include people working on the COVID-19 response, in critical sectors, sponsored foreign nationals on the ‘priority migration skilled occupation list’, medical and allied health students or those in their final two years of an Australian secondary school.

You can also be given an individual exemption on “compassionate and compelling” grounds such as a family bereavement, or if you have a “unvaccinated prospective marriage” visa.

All exemption applications must be completed at least two weeks before you travel and you are not advised to do so until your documents have been approved.

What have other people said about Djokovic’s case?

After Djokovic posted about his medical exemption on social media, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he would be on the “next flight home” without proof he had been vaccinated.

After his visa decision was overturned, he told the press: “All I can say is that the evidence (for) medical exemption that was provided was found to be insufficient.”

Serbian President Aleksander Vucic said Djokovic’s treatment amounted to “harassment” and that he had phoned him to offer his support.

“In line with all norms of international law, Serbia will fight for Novak, truth and justice. Novak is strong, as we all know,” he said.

Two-time quarter-finalist Tennys Sandgren, who is not playing the Australian Open this year because of the vaccination requirement, tweeted his support.

“Just to be crystal clear here. 2 separate medical boards approved his exemption. And politicians are stopping it. Australia doesn’t deserve to host a grand slam,” he wrote.

But Djokovic’s long-time rival Rafael Nadal told a news conference on Thursday: “The world has been suffering enough not to follow the rules.

“If you are vaccinated, you can play in the Australian Open and everywhere. I think if he wanted, he would be playing here in Australia without a problem.”

Daniil Medvedev, who is ranked number two behind Djokovic, added: “If he had a fair exemption from the rule, well, he should be here; if he didn’t, he shouldn’t be here.”

What will happen to Djokovic now?

The world number one is now staying in an immigration detention hotel in Melbourne as he currently does not hold a valid visa.

A judge adjourned his appeal hearing on the final decision until 10am on Monday, 10 January.

If they refuse to allow his medical exemption, he will be deported immediately.

There are still seven days between the court hearing and the start of the tournament, which is the minimum period of time after your final vaccine dose to become eligible for a travel exemption.

This would mean if he chose to get vaccinated with the single-shot Janssen jab – his documents could be rushed through in time to play the tournament on 17 January.

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