Tennis: Djokovic had virus last month, had clearance to enter Australia - court filing

Novak Djokovic returned his first positive coronavirus test on Dec 16, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (REUTERS, AFP) - Tennis world No. 1 Novak Djokovic contracted Covid-19 last month but was not experiencing symptoms and had written clearance from Australia's immigration department before travelling to the country with a medical exemption from its vaccination rules, his lawyers said in a court filing on Saturday (Jan 8).

Djokovic, who is in immigration detention in Australia after having his visa cancelled on arrival on Thursday, returned his first positive coronavirus test on Dec 16, 2021, but 14 days later "had not had a fever or respiratory symptoms of Covid-19 in the last 72 hours", the filing said.

On Jan 1, the Serbian sports star received "a document from the Department of Home Affairs (which) told Mr Djokovic that his 'responses indicate(d) that (he met) the requirements for a quarantine-free arrival into Australia", the documents added.

“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,” Djokovic said in the filing about his experience being detained at Melbourne Airport.

He said he told Australian Border Force (ABF) officers that “I had correctly made my Australian Travel Declaration and otherwise satisfied all necessary requirements in order to lawfully enter Australia on my visa”.

Djokovic, an outspoken critic of mandatory vaccination, has never disclosed his own vaccination status. He is challenging his visa cancellation in Australia's federal court in hopes of winning his 21st Grand Slam at the Australian Open which starts on Jan 17.

The 34-year-old has asked to be moved from a Melbourne detention centre so he can train for the Australian Open, his lawyers said on Saturday.

Djokovic has been in the Park Hotel detention facility since his arrival in the country "notwithstanding his requests to be moved", his lawyers said in a federal court submission seeking to overturn the cancellation of his visa.

The filing confirmed a media report that he had asked to be moved to lodgings with access to a tennis court but that his request was denied.

The federal court has ordered Home Affairs to file its response by Sunday.

The ABF, a unit of Home Affairs, did not respond to a Reuters request for comment on Saturday.

Many countries allow a recent Covid-19 infection as a reason for an exemption from vaccine requirements. Australia’s federal government released a letter soon after Djokovic arrived showing that it had notified Tennis Australia that was not necessarily the case in the country.

The federal and Victorian state governments and Tennis Australia have denied responsibility for the dispute.

Meanwhile, Czech women’s tennis player Renata Voracova flew out of Melbourne's airport on Saturday evening after her visa was cancelled over her Covid-19 vaccine status, a government source said.

The 38-year-old had been kept in the same Melbourne immigration centre as Djokovic.

AFP photo and video images showed the Czech, who had originally planned to compete in the Australian Open, being driven out of the detention centre earlier in the day.

Australia’s border authority said it had been investigating the visas of two people connected to the Australian Open, in addition to Djokovic.

Though the ABF has not identified them, the Czech government has confirmed Voracova was one of those detained. The other person is reported to be an official connected with the tournament.

“The ABF can confirm both individuals have now voluntarily departed Australia,” it said.

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