By Courtney Walsh
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Novak Djokovic’s legal challenge to the Australian government’s decision to cancel his visa on arrival this week says a certified COVID-19 infection in December meant he qualified for a medical exemption to the county’s vaccination requirements.A 35-page document lodged in the Federal Circuit and Family Court by his legal team on Saturday outlines the Serbian’s case for challenging the visa cancellation which would prevent him from playing in the Australian Open. The challenge will be heard in court on Monday morning.
The tennis world number one has been held in immigration detention in a hotel in Melbourne since Thursday morning after border officials rejected his claim for a medical exemption.
The filing shows Djokovic said he had received a letter from Tennis Australia’s Chief Medical Officer on Dec. 30 stating he had a medical exemption from vaccination on the basis that he had recently recovered from a COVID infection.
The documents show he had tested positive to COVID on Dec. 16, and by Dec. 30 had been free of symptoms or fever in the previous 72 hours.
The application said he had a valid visa to travel and also received an assessment from the Department of Home Affairs stating “responses indicate(d) that (he met) the requirements for a quarantine-free arrival into Australia where permitted by the jurisdiction of your arrival”, with Victoria the nominated jurisdiction.
The legal documents state that early on Thursday morning, after being informed at Melbourne Airport his visa would be rescinded, a confused Djokovic pleaded to be given time to be able to contact Tennis Australia and his agent.
But he said he was “pressured” by authorities to agree to an interview shortly after 6 a.m., despite accepting an earlier offer than he could rest until 8:30 a.m. and saying he “wanted some help and legal support and advice from [his] representatives”, who were still sleeping at the early hour.
The application says Djokovic challenged an official at the airport when told a recent COVID-19 infection was not considered a substitute for a vaccination in Australia.
“That’s not true, and I told him what the Independent State Government medical panel had said and I explained why. I then referred to the two medical panels and the Travel Declaration,” the legal filing quotes the Serbian as saying.
“I explained that I had been recently infected with COVID in December 2021 and, on this basis, I was entitled to a medical exemption in accordance with Australian Government rules and guidance.”
He said he had provided his medical evidence to Tennis Australia for its two-stage independent assessment process, had made his travel declarations correctly and satisfied all requirements to legally enter Australia on his approved visa.
Among the arguments lawyers for the Serbian superstar raised was a section from the Australian Immunisation Register which states a person can apply for a temporary vaccine exemption due to a recent “acute major medical illness”.
Djokovic’s legal team said that, among a series of what it says are jurisdictional errors, a delegate for the minister for home affairs did not have “a skerrick of evidence”, using an Australian term for a tiny amount to suggest the 20-time major champion’s recent infection did not constitute a contraindication.
Tennis Australia’s chief medical officer, Dr Carolyn Broderick, was one of three medical practitioners on a panel that approved an exemption consistent with guidelines outlined by Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, the filing says.The document says the first decision was then assessed by a second independent medical panel set up by the Victorian state government, consistent with the process that has been outlined publicly by Tennis Australia.
The case is Djokovic V Minister for Home Affairs. Djokovic is represented by legal firm Hall & Willcox, and the government is represented by the Australian Government Solicitor.
(Reporting by Courtney Walsh; Additional reporting by John Mair; Editing by William Mallard)