Novak Djokovic isn’t alone in having his visa canceled after flying in for the Australian Open without the required evidence to support a medical exemption to the country’s strict COVID-19 vaccination rules.
Djokovic was denied entry when he arrived at Melbourne’s airport on Wednesday and was still in an immigration detention hotel on Friday, awaiting a court hearing to challenge his deportation, when the Australian Border Force confirmed that action was taken against two other people.
In an e-mail to The Associated Press, the border force said following investigations into two other cases of people connected to the Australian Open “one individual has voluntarily departed Australia ... and the visa of a third individual has been canceled.”
The ABF said one person was taken into immigration detention pending deportation, but declined to to give details or make further comment.
The embassy for the Czech Republic in Canberra identified 38-year-old doubles player Renata Voráčová as one of the people involved.
“Renata Voráčová has decided to leave Australia at the earliest possible time and won’t participate in the tournament in Melbourne,” the Czech embassy said.
Initially, the Victorian state government planned to have a no-vaccine, no-play policy for the season's first tennis major at Melbourne Park, but that changed late last year when the option of the medical exemption was floated.
Australian Open organizers and the state government agreed to have two independent panels of medical experts assess applications for the exemptions. The names, ages and nationalities were removed from each application for privacy reasons, and the panels took the information supplied on face value.
A problem has since emerged: The guidelines for the state-backed assessments for exemptions for the tournament — where it's been mandated that all players, staff, fans and officials must show proof of full vaccination for the coronavirus — and the national requirements for entry to Australia differed.
Australian media has reported this week that the department of health wrote to Tennis Australia last November to outline that people having a coronavirus infection in the previous six months would not be grounds for a medical exemption under the national COVID-19 regulations. That, apparently, was not communicated to all players.
Critics of the medical exemptions have said if there were no loopholes, then there would be no confusion.
Djokovic, who is seeking a men's record 21st major singles title, has been a vaccine skeptic and has declined to acknowledge if he’s had shots for COVID-19.
His attendance at the Australian Open, where he's a nine-time champion, had been up in the air for months because of Australia's strict vaccination requirements.
Djokovic's social media post on Tuesday that he had received exemption permission and was heading to Melbourne sparked some outrage in Australia, where people have endured months of lockdowns and closed state and international borders during the pandemic.
But Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley defended the “completely legitimate application and process” for the medical exemptions and insisted there was no special treatment for Djokovic.
Tiley said 26 people connected with the tournament applied for a medical exemption but only a “handful” were granted. None except Djokovic, who noted it on social media, were publicly identified at the time. Now three of them are either in detention or have left.
Australian Open organizers have not made any official comment on the visa process or the medical exemption since Wednesday.
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