© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Tennis – Davis Cup Semifinals – Serbia – Croatia – La Caja Magica, Madrid, Spain – December 3, 2021 Serbian Novak Djokovic celebrates victory in match against Croat Marin Cilic REUTERS / Susana Vera
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Novak Djokovic needs to prove that he has a real medical exemption from vaccination against COVID-19 when he lands in Australia or will be “on the next plane home”, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday. Number 1 announced on Tuesday that he had been exempted from playing in the Grand Slam tournament in Melbourne and said he was going to Australia.
Tennis Australia and the government of the Victorian state said that Djokovic is one of the “handful” of successful candidates among 26 people who asked for an exemption from vaccination, but did not receive any special treatment in the process of anonymous application.
“We are awaiting his presentation and what evidence he provides us to support it,” Morrison told a news conference after chairing a meeting of state leaders on dealing with record levels of COVID infection in the country.
“If that evidence is insufficient, then he will not be treated differently than anyone else and will be on the next plane home. There should be no special rules for Novak Djokovic. None.”
The federal government, which is responsible for international borders and visas, was not part of the exemption process. Morrison said there were a number of exemptions granted to people who could support their application.
“So, the circumstances are not unique, the question is whether he has enough evidence to confirm that he would qualify for that exception,” he said.
The decision to grant Djokovic an exemption at the tournament drew sharp criticism in Australia, where more than 90% of people over the age of 16 received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Melbourne had the longest cumulative closure in the world to curb COVID, and the outbreak of the Omicron variant has brought the number of cases to record levels.
“I think many people in the Victorian community will find this a disappointing outcome,” Acting Victoria Sports Minister Jaala Pulford told a news conference earlier Wednesday after news of Djokovic’s dismissal.
“But the process is a process; no one has had special treatment. The process is incredibly robust.”
Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley said the two-stage application process is confidential and run by independent experts. All applications were evaluated to ensure that all exemptions met the requirements set by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (ATAGI).
Tiley said those reasons included a previous unwanted response to vaccines, recent major surgery or myocarditis, or confirmed evidence of COVID infection in the past six months.
The Serb, who refused to reveal his vaccination status, said earlier that he was not sure whether he would compete in the tournament from January 17 to 30 in Melbourne due to concerns over Australian quarantine rules. “
“We fully understand and sympathize with … people who are upset by the fact that Novak came because of his statements in the last few years about vaccination,” Tiley told reporters.
“However, it is up to him in the end to talk to the public about his condition, if he decides to do so, and the reasons why he received the exemption.”
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