Australian Open was warned in November Novak Djokovic didn’t qualify for medical exemption

Novak Djokovic's vaccine status bashed by Aussie TV presenter

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Novak Djokovic’s medical exemption has caused outrage in Australia in the last couple of days. The world No 1 announced on Tuesday that he was flying to Melbourne for the Australian Open after receiving an “exemption permission”. But after Australia’s Border Force found an “issue” with his visa, it was cancelled when he arrived in the country. A federal government letter has now shown that the Australian Open was warned Djokovic’s exemption was invalid in November.

Djokovic’s Australian Open participation had been in doubt for several months after it was confirmed that all players needed to be fully vaccinated to compete, until nine-time champion  announced on Tuesday that he would be playing after receiving “an exemption permission”, as Tennis Australia confirmed his exemption was given on medical grounds.

They said it was “granted following a rigorous review process involving two separate independent panels of medical experts,” including one appointed by the Victorian Department of Health, as they both worked to the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) guidelines.

But Djokovic was pulled aside by border officials when he landed in Melbourne late on Wednesday, after they found an “issue” with his visa while he was in the air.

The world No 1, according to The Age, attempted to enter the country on the basis that he had recovered from a Covid infection in the last six months, the grounds for his medical exemption, but was unable to provide Australian Border Force with sufficient evidence, and they rejected his claim.

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When asked for more proof by both the border and Victorian state officials, Djokovic presented “minimal” evidence for his exemption supported by just one doctor, the report stated.

His visa was then cancelled, announced by Australia’s Border Force who said: “The ABF can confirm that Mr Djokovic failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements to Australia, and his visa has been subsequently cancelled.

“Non-citizens who do not hold a valid visa on entry or who have had their visa cancelled will be detained and removed from Australia.”

Djokovic travelled to the country believing he had been given a medical exemption that would allow him to pass through the border as well as compete, but letters from November, obtained by NCA Newswire, have now emerged showing Australian Open organisers were told that Covid infection in the last six months was not sufficient reasoning.

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The Australian Government’s Department of Health wrote to Craig Tiley – Tennis Australia chief and tournament director of the Australian Open – two months ago, informing him of the information.

“ATAGI advises that past infection with SARS-CoV-2 is not a contraindication to vaccination,” department representative Lisa Schofield wrote in November.

“People with laboratory confirmation of past infection can start their vaccination course, or complete the second dose if they have already had a first dose prior to being infected by SARS-CoV-2, as soon as they have recovered from the symptomatic infection. The minimum interval requirement between the two doses must still be met.”

Australia’s Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, also wrote to Tiley two months ago, stating that recovering from Covid infection in the past six months was not adequate grounds for medical exemption.

“The Australian Border Force has advised that people must be fully vaccinated, as defined by ATAGI (the national advisory body on vaccines) to gain quarantine-free entry into Australia,” he wrote.

“In relation to your specific questions, I can confirm that people who contracted Covid-19 within the past six months and seek to enter Australia from overseas, and have not received two doses of a Therapeutic Goods Administration-approved or recognised vaccine are not considered fully vaccinated.”

It contrast’s Tennis Australia’s statement from Tuesday which says that anonymous applications were first reviewed by an expert panel of doctors appointed by the organisation in an independent process, with only those meeting the ATAGI’s national guidelines going on to a second review for approval, once again in line with the guidelines.

“Applications that met the national guidelines set by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) were then subjected to a second review conducted by a Government-appointed panel of medical experts, the Independent Medical Exemption Review Panel,” they said.

Meanwhile, Djokovic will learn of his fate on Monday morning after his lawyers appealed to have his visa cancellation overturned.

The 20-time Major champion is now staying in Melbourne’s Park Hotel in quarantine as he awaits the resumption of the hearing, set to conclude at 10am on Monday.

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