SYDNEY (BBC): Australia’s prime minister has said tennis star Novak Djokovic will be refused entry to the country unless he provides evidence that he cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.
Scott Morrison said the tennis player “could be on the next plane home” if the proof was insufficient.
The world number one is due to play in the Australian Open, after being exempted from vaccination rules.
Players must be jabbed or have an exemption from an independent panel.
Djokovic has landed in Australia and is awaiting a decision. He has not spoken about his vaccination status, but last year he said he was “opposed to vaccination”. Organisers say the defending champion has not been given special treatment, but the decision has infuriated many Australians. The country is seeing tens of thousands of Covid-19 cases for the first time after enduring some of the world’s strictest restrictions. Amid the controversy, Mr Morrison said the Serbian player would be required to present evidence upon arrival that he has a genuine medical exemption from vaccination. The Australian Open begins on 17 January in Melbourne. “If that evidence is insufficient, then he won’t be treated any different to anyone else,” the prime minister told reporters. “There should be no special rules for Novak Djokovic at all. None whatsoever.”
The comments seemed to represent a change in his position, after he said on Tuesday that Victoria’s state government had provided the player with an exemption to enter the country and that officials would act “in accordance with that decision”.
The player arrived at Melbourne Airport on Wednesday, where authorities noticed a separate issue with his visa. A member of his team had applied for a sub-class of visa which does not allow medical exemptions for being unvaccinated. The country’s border force sought the Victorian state government’s support to approve his entry, but they refused. Victoria state government minister Jaala Pulford said visa approvals were a matter for the federal government. The Age newspaper reports that the player will likely be allowed off the plane and into Melbourne while the row continues.
More than 90% of Australia’s over-16 population is fully vaccinated, but some people still cannot travel interstate or globally because of current measures. Many Australians had previously accused the government of allowing the rich and famous to do as they please while ordinary people remained separated from sick and dying loved ones.
“I think it’s a disgrace,” Melbourne resident Christine Wharton told ABC. “We’ve all done the right thing, we’ve all gone out and got our jabs and our boosters and we have someone that has come from overseas and all of a sudden he’s been exempt and can play.”