Novak Djokovic vaccine exemption: Victorian Government rejects entry over visa


Novak Djokovic has landed in Australia but the Victorian Government says it has rejected his application to enter over a visa issue.

Novak Djokovic has landed in Australia but faced an extraordinary visa drama threatening to end his grand slam hopes.

The world number one touched down on a Emirates flight from Dubai shortly after 11pm Wednesday night AEST.

However, late on Wednesday evening it emerged that Djokovic was seeking to enter Australia on a work visa, which doesn’t permit medical exemptions for being unvaccinated and requires the support of the Victorian government.

A federal government source told The Age there were question marks about whether Djokovic had adequate documentation to prove the reason for his exemption, which is required from unvaccinated people.

Acting Sports and Major Events Minister Jaala Pulford tweeted at 11.14pm that the state government would not support Djokovic’s application.

“The Federal Government has asked if we will support Novak Djokovic’s visa application to enter Australia,” she said.

“We will not be providing Novak Djokovic with individual visa application support to participate in the 2022 Australian Open Grand Slam.

“We’ve always been clear on two points: visa approvals are a matter for the Federal Government, and medical exemptions a matter for doctors.”

Border Force officials have the discretion to allow Djokovic into the country in spite of the Victorian government move however is fate is still unclear.

A government source told the Herald Sun “they may have to send him or put him in immigration detention.”

Australia has reacted with disgust to news the nine-time champion at Melbourne Park had been granted a vaccination exemption to play in the tournament starting on January 17.

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And despite months of claims from Victorian government officials Djokovic wouldn’t be able to play without being fully vaccinated, the Serbian — an outspoken anti-vaxxer — revealed he had been granted permission to compete in the grand slam.

But while Djokovic is heading to Australia, Andrews released a statement and Morrison made remarks appearing to imply Djokovic was not yet in the clear.

The Prime Minister was asked by reporters on Wednesday afternoon if he personally supported the decision to grant Djokovic an exemption. He warned the tennis star could find himself “on the next plane home” if he can’t provide sufficient evidence as to why he is unable to be vaccinated.

“My view is that any individual seeking to enter Australia must comply with our border requirements,” Morrison said.

“Now when Novak Djokovic arrives in Australia — I’m not quite sure when he’s going to turn up but I don’t think it’s too far away — He has to because if he’s not vaccinated, he must provide acceptable proof that he cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons and be able to access the same travel arrangements as fully vaccinated travellers.

“So we await his presentation and what evidence he provides to support that.

“If that evidence is insufficient, then he won’t be treated any different to anyone else and he’ll be on the next plane home. So there should be no special rules for Novak Djokovic at all. None whatsoever. And so if medical exemptions have been provided by medical professionals and that’s been furnished to him as a proviso for him to get on that plane, well, that will have to stack up when he arrives in Australia.

“But he will be treated no different to anyone else and my view is he should be treated no different to anyone else.

“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.

“So the circumstance is not unique. The issue is whether he has sufficient evidence to support that he would qualify for that exemption.”

Andrews’ statement earlier in the afternoon didn’t mention the 20-time major winner by name but there was no doubt who the statement was referring to.

“Any individual seeking to enter Australia must comply with our strict border requirements,” her statement read.

“While the Victorian Government and Tennis Australia may permit a non-vaccinated player to compete in the Australian Open, it is the Commonwealth Government that will enforce our requirements at the Australian border.

“Since 15 December 2021 fully vaccinated eligible visa holders can travel to Australia without needing to apply for a travel exemption, and enter eligible states and territories quarantine free.

“If an arriving individual is not vaccinated, they must provide acceptable proof that they cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons to be able to access the same travel arrangement as fully vaccinated travellers.

“Australian Border Force will continue to ensure that those who arrive at our border comply with our strict border requirements.

“No individual competing at the Australian Open will be afforded any special treatment. Quarantine requirements for international arrivals in Victoria, including for non-vaccinated individuals, are a matter for the Victorian Government.”

The statement has raised several questions as social media reacted to the latest twist in the ongoing saga.

Journalist Eryk Bagshaw tweeted: “Comments by Australian Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews suggest that the federal government could overturn Djokovic’s exemption to enter Australia.

“So Djokovic is currently in the air. Things could get interesting at Tullamarine …”

The Herald Sun’s Kieran Rooney said: “My reading of this is Djokovic will need to show proof of his medical exemption to border force/airline on arrival.

“Others have suggested that this border force arrangement may have already played out when he was granted a visa … Either way, federal authorities needed to approve Djokovic’s arrival (with medical exemption) into the country in some way.”

Rugby league reporter Brad Walter was asking questions that were likely shared by many after Andrews released her statement.

“What does that mean? Is the Federal Government going to stop him coming or playing? Or are they saying that it was them who granted him an exemption? Or does he now have to apply to them?” Walter wrote on Twitter.

Fellow journalist Jack Snape replied: “Border Force may have questions over info Djokovic has provided in his application for an exemption. ‘Acceptable proof’ in the Andrews statement suggests the information may have been acceptable to Vic, but to Border Force? Maybe not.”

Players must be fully vaccinated — or possess an exemption — to compete in the Australian Open.

Djokovic’s vaccination status has been clouded in mystery as he has refused to reveal whether he has received the jab or not, but he has made his stance on the matter clear, saying in April 2020 he was opposed to mandatory vaccinations.

‘Appalling message’: Djokovic explanation doesn’t wash

Questions have been raised about the wording of Djokovic’s Instagram post announcing he was coming to Australia for the year’s first grand slam while Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley asked the 34-year-old to publicly explain exactly why he qualified for an exemption amid a furious backlash.

Tiley also said Djokovic received “no special” favours — but TA was in no position to divulge Djokovic’s private medical information to answer questions about how exactly he qualified for an exemption.

Prominent physician Stephen Parnis, a former Australian Medical Association vice-president, said it sent an appalling message to people trying to stop the spread of Covid-19.

“I don’t care how good a tennis player he is. If he’s refusing to get vaccinated, he shouldn’t be allowed in,” Parnis said on Twitter.

“If this exemption is true, it sends an appalling message to millions seeking to reduce #Covid19Aus risk to themselves & others.”

Some players expressed surprise with the ruling, including British doubles player Jamie Murray who said at the ATP Cup in Sydney: “I think if it was me that wasn’t vaccinated, I wouldn’t be getting an exemption.”

What are the grounds for exemption?

It’s important to note TA did not give permission for Djokovic to play while remaining unvaccinated. Instead, his exemption was the result of a review process involving two independent panels of medical experts — the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) and the Independent Medical Exemption Review Panel appointed by the Victorian Department of Health.

ATAGI released its most recent guidance for “acute major medical conditions” that warrant a temporary medical exemption for Covid-19 vaccines on November 26.

For the Pfizer or Moderna mRNA Covid-19 vaccines:

• Inflammatory cardiac illness within the past three months, e.g., myocarditis or pericarditis; acute rheumatic fever or acute rheumatic heart disease (i.e., with active myocardial inflammation); or acute decompensated heart failure

For all other Covid-19 vaccines including AstraZeneca:

• Acute major medical condition (e.g. undergoing major surgery or hospital admission for a serious illness). Typically, these are time-limited conditions (or the medical treatment for them is time limited)

• PCR-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection, where vaccination can be deferred until 6 months after the infection. Vaccination should be deferred for 90 days in people who have received anti-SARS-CoV-2 monoclonal antibody or convalescent plasma therapy

• Any serious adverse event attributed to a previous dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, without another cause identified, and with no acceptable alternative vaccine available. For example a person under 60 years of age, contraindicated to receive Pfizer vaccine and in whom the risks do not outweigh the benefits for receipt of AstraZeneca vaccine, is eligible for a temporary exemption

• If the vaccine is a risk to themselves or others during the vaccination process they may warrant a temporary vaccine exemption. This may include a range of individuals with underlying developmental or mental health disorders, but noting that non-pharmacological interventions can safely facilitate vaccination in many individuals with behavioural disturbances and that specialist services may be available to facilitate the safe administration of vaccines in this population

ATAGI says chronic Covid-19 symptoms, aka “Long Covid”, are not a contraindication to Covid-19 vaccines “but do warrant a clinical discussion with the patient”.

“Pregnancy is not a valid reason for exemption in the absence of any of the criteria listed above,” ATAGI adds.

An adverse reaction to a previous dose of a Covid-19 vaccine is only considered “serious” if it meets three criteria:

• It requires in-patient hospitalisation or prolongation of existing hospitalisation, results in persistent or significant disability/incapacity, or is potentially life-threatening

• It has been reported to a state/territory adverse event surveillance system and/or the Therapeutic Goods Administration

• It has been determined following review by, and/or on the opinion of, an experienced immunisation provider/medical specialist to be associated with a risk of recurrence of the serious adverse event if another dose is given.

with AFP

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