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Novak Djokovic stuck in Melbourne airport over COVID-19 vaccine exemption confusion

Novak Djokovic was stuck in an Australian airport on Wednesday as officials tried to work through a visa issue related to his COVID-19 vaccine exemption for the upcoming Australian Open, Reuters reported. The news comes amid controversy over the decision to grant the top-ranked men’s tennis player a medical exemption to enter the tournament. 

On Tuesday, Djokovic announced that he had been granted a medical exemption for the Open — a decision that quickly sparked backlash in Australia. Djokovic has not publicly disclosed whether he has been vaccinated. 

Tournament officials said in a statement that he was granted the medical exemption after a “rigorous review process” that included two separate independent panels of experts, which are made up of doctors from immunology, infectious disease and general practice.

But when Djokovic arrived in Australia on Wednesday, officials realized that his team had applied for a type of visa that does not permit vaccine exemptions, Reuters reported. The acting sports minister in the state of Victoria — which holds the Open — said the state would not support Djokovic’s visa application and deferred to the federal government on whether to allow the tennis star in the country.

Djokovic’s ability to enter the country is now in the hands of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, according to Reuters. Earlier Wednesday, Morrison had said that Djokovic needed to provide “acceptable proof that he cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons” before entering the country. 

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“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,” Morrison said at the time. He has not commented publicly since the confusion at the airport. 

TENNIS-AUS-OPEN-DJOKOVIC-COVID-VIRUS
A Serbian tennis fan waves a flag as he awaits the arrival of Serbia’s tennis champion Novak Djokovic in Melbourne on Thursday. After arriving in Melbourne late on Wednesday, world number one Novak Djokovic may have encountered a late snag on his trip to play in the Australian Open, after state government officials refused to support his visa application.

WILLIAM WEST/AFP via Getty Images


While some fellow tennis players welcomed Djokovic’s return to the Australian Open, women’s top ranked tennis player and Australian Ashleigh Barty said she understands why people are “frustrated” with the decision to allow him play. 

Australian Open director Craig Tiley said players, fans and staff at the tournament must be fully vaccinated unless there’s a reason why an exemption should be granted.

The backlash against Djokovic’s exemption comes as the country’s residents have dealt with strict COVID-related measures. In Melbourne, people have spent more than 260 days under lockdown since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the BBC. 

Djokovic has nine Australian Open titles, and he won the last three. With another victory in Australia, he could break a three-way tie with tennis greats Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the most Grand Slam singles titles with a record 21st win. 

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