It was reported that Novak Djokovic was reportedly returned to immigration detention on Saturday after his legal challenge to avoid being deported from Australia for not being vaccinated for COVID-19 was transferred to a higher court.
A Federal Court hearing was scheduled for Sunday, one day before the men’s number 1 tennis player and nine-time Australian Open champion began his title defense at the first Grand Slam tennis tournament of the year.
Police closed a lane behind the building where Djokovic’s lawyers are based, and two vehicles exited the building on Saturday mid-afternoon local time. On television footage, Djokovic can be seen wearing a mask in the back of a vehicle near an immigrant detention hotel.
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The Australian Associated Press reported that Djokovic was back in detention. He spent four nights confined to a hotel near central Melbourne before being released on Monday when he won a court appeal on procedural grounds against his first visa cancellation.
On Friday, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke blocked the 34-year-old Serbian’s visa, which was originally revoked when he landed at Melbourne airport on January 5.
Expulsion from Australia can lead to a three-year ban on returning to the country, although it can be lifted, depending on the circumstances.
Djokovic acknowledged that his travel declaration was incorrect because it did not indicate that he had been to multiple countries in the two weeks prior to his arrival in Australia.
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But incorrect travel information isn’t why Hawke decided Djokovic’s expulsion was in the public interest.
His lawyers filed documents in court on Saturday that revealed Hawke had claimed that “Djokovic is perceived by some as a talisman of a community of anti-vaccination sentiments.”
Australia is one of the most vaccinated populations in the world, with 89% of people aged 16 and over fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
But the minister said Djokovic’s presence in Australia could be a risk to the health and “good order” of the Australian public. Its presence “could be counterproductive to vaccination efforts by others in Australia,” the minister said.
The Department of Health reported that Djokovic had a “low” risk of transmitting COVID-19 and a “very low” risk of transmitting the disease at the Australian Open.
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The minister cited comments made by Djokovic in April 2020, before a vaccine against COVID-19 was available, according to which he was “against vaccination”.
Djokovic had “previously stated that he would not want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine” to compete in tournaments.
The evidence “is clear that he has publicly expressed anti-vaccination sentiment,” the minister wrote in his reasons for canceling Djokovic’s visa.
Djokovic’s lawyers say the minister had not cited any evidence that Djokovic’s presence in Australia could “promote anti-vaccination sentiment”.
Djokovic will be cleared from hotel detention on Sunday to visit his lawyers’ offices for a video court hearing.
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On Saturday, Judge David O’Callaghan suggested that an entire bench rather than a single judge hear the case on Sunday. A full bench consists of three or five judges.
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A full bench would mean any verdict would be less likely to be challenged. The only remedy would be the High Court and there would be no guarantee that that court would also agree to examine such an appeal.
Djokovic’s attorney, Paul Holdenson, opted for a full bench press, while Hawke’s attorney, Stephen Lloyd, preferred a single judge.
Legal observers suspect that Lloyd wants to keep the option of another Federal Court appeal open because he thinks the minister can organize a stronger case without the rush to reach a verdict before Monday.
Chief Judge James Allsop will decide how many judges hear the case.
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Saturday’s case was elevated by the Federal Circuit and the Family Court to the Federal Court. But the number of judges who will hear the case at 9:30 am on Sunday has yet to be determined.
Djokovic has won the last three Australian Open, part of his overall tally of 20 Grand Slam championships. He is mostly related to Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer by a man in history.
In a social media post Wednesday that constituted his broadest public comments on the episode, Djokovic blamed his agent for ticking the wrong box on the form, calling it “a human and certainly unintended error.”
In the same post, Djokovic said he conducted an interview and photo shoot with a French newspaper in Serbia despite knowing he tested positive for COVID-19 two days earlier. Djokovic attempted to use what he believed was a positive test carried out on December 16 to justify a medical exemption that would have allowed him to circumvent the vaccine requirement on the grounds that he already had COVID-19.
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Canceling Djokovic’s visa, Hawke said Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government “is firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Morrison himself welcomed Djokovic’s imminent expulsion. The incident touched a nerve in Australia, and specifically in the state of Victoria, where locals went through hundreds of days of lockdown during the worst of the pandemic.
Australia faces a huge wave of virus cases driven by the highly transmissible variant of the Omicron. On Friday, the nation reported 130,000 new cases, including nearly 35,000 in the state of Victoria. Although many infected people are not getting as ill as in previous outbreaks, the increase is still putting a strain on the health system, with more than 4,400 people hospitalized. It has also disrupted workplaces and supply chains.
“This pandemic has been incredibly difficult for every Australian, but we have stood together and saved lives and livelihoods. … Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic and rightly expect the outcome of those sacrifices to be protected, “Morrison said on Friday.” This is what the minister is doing today in taking this action. “
Djokovic’s supporters in Serbia were appalled by the visa cancellation.
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All Australian Open, including players, their support teams and spectators, must be vaccinated. Djokovic is not vaccinated.
His exemption was approved by the Victorian state government and Tennis Australia, apparently allowing him to obtain a visa to travel. But the Australian Border Force refused the exemption and canceled his visa when he landed in the country.
Djokovic spent four nights in an immigrant detention hotel before a judge overturned the decision. That ruling allowed him to move freely around Australia and he practiced daily at Melbourne Park.
“It’s not a good situation for anyone,” said Andy Murray, three-time Grand Slam champion and five-time runner-up at the Australian Open. “It seems to have been dragging on for quite some time now.”
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Under the rules of the Grand Slam, if Djokovic is forced to withdraw from the tournament before the order of play for Day 1 is announced, the No. 5 Andrey Rublev would move to replace Djokovic in the group.
If Djokovic withdraws from the tournament after the schedule is published on Monday, he will be replaced on the pitch by what is known as a “lucky loser”, a player who loses in the qualifying tournament but enters the main draw due to the exit of a other player before the competition started.
And if Djokovic plays in one match – or more – and then is told he can no longer participate in the tournament, his next opponent will simply move on to the next round and there will be no substitutions.
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