MELBOURNE, Australia – Novak Djokovic was reported to be back in immigration detention on Saturday after his legal challenge to avoid being deported from Australia for not being vaccinated for COVID-19 was moved to a higher court.
A federal court hearing is scheduled for Sunday, a day before the number one-ranked tennis player and nine-time Australian Open champion was due to begin 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 located and two vehicles left the building in mid-afternoon local time on Saturday. Television footage showed Djokovic wearing a face mask in the back of a vehicle near an immigration detention hotel.
The Australian Associated Press reported that Djokovic was back in custody. He spent four nights at a hotel near central Melbourne before being released last Monday when he won a lawsuit on procedural grounds against his first visa cancellation.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke on Friday blocked the 34-year-old Serb’s visa, which was originally revoked when he landed at an airport in Melbourne on January 5.
Deportation from Australia can lead to a three-year ban on returning to the country, although this may be waived depending on the circumstances.
Djokovic has admitted that his travel declaration was incorrect because it did not indicate that he had been to several countries in the two weeks before his arrival in Australia.
But the incorrect travel information is not why Hawke decided that evicting Djokovic was in the public interest.
His lawyers filed documents with the court on Saturday showing that Hawke had stated that “Djokovic is seen by some as a talisman of a community of anti-vaccine 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 pose a risk to the health and “good order” of the Australian public. His presence “could be counterproductive to vaccination attempts by others in Australia,” the minister said.
The Ministry of Health advised that Djokovic had a “low” risk of transmitting COVID-19 and a “very low” risk of transmitting the disease at the Australian Open.
The minister cited comments Djokovic made in April 2020, before a COVID-19 vaccine was available, that he was “against vaccination”.
Djokovic had stated “previously that he wouldn’t want to be forced by anyone to take a vaccine” to participate in tournaments.
The evidence “makes it clear that he has publicly expressed anti-vaccination,” the minister wrote in his reasons for revoking Djokovic’s visa.
Djokovic’s lawyers argue that the minister has provided no evidence that Djokovic’s presence in Australia “could promote anti-vaccination sentiment”.
Djokovic will be allowed to leave his hotel detention on Sunday to visit the offices of his lawyers for the video hearing.
On Saturday, Judge David O’Callaghan suggested a full bench rather than a single judge to hear the case on Sunday. A full bench consists of three or five judges.
A full bank would mean that a judgment is less likely to be appealed. The only appeal would be the High Court and there would be no guarantee that that court would even agree to such an appeal.
Djokovic’s lawyer, Paul Holdenson, opted for an entire bank, while Hawke’s lawyer, Stephen Lloyd, preferred a single judge.
Legal observers suspect Lloyd wants to keep the option of yet another appeal to federal court open, as he believes the minister can advance a stronger case without the rush to reach a verdict before Monday.
Chief Justice James Allsop will decide how many judges will hear the case.
The case was transferred from the Federal Circuit and Family Court to the Federal Court on Saturday. But the number of judges who will hear the case from 9.30am on Sunday has yet to be determined.
Djokovic has won the last three Australian Opens, part of his total Grand Slam series of 20 championships. He is most connected to Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer by a man in history.
In a social media post that formed his most extensive public comments on the episode on Wednesday, Djokovic blamed his agent for ticking the wrong box on the form, calling it “human error and certainly not intentional.”
In that same post, Djokovic said he went ahead with an interview and a photo shoot with a French newspaper in Serbia, despite knowing he had tested positive for COVID-19 two days earlier. Djokovic has tried to use a positive test he says taken on December 16 to justify a medical exemption that would allow him to circumvent the vaccine requirement on the grounds that he already had COVID-19.
In canceling Djokovic’s visa, Hawke said Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government is “determined to protect Australia’s borders, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic”.
Morrison himself welcomed the imminent deportation of Djokovic. The episode has struck a chord in Australia, and particularly in the state of Victoria, where locals experienced hundreds of days of lockdowns during the worst of the pandemic.
Australia is facing a massive increase in virus cases caused by the highly transmissible ommicron strain. On Friday, the country reported 130,000 new cases, including nearly 35,000 in the state of Victoria. While many infected people are not getting as sick as in previous outbreaks, the wave is still putting a heavy 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 stayed together and saved lives and livelihoods. … Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected,” Morrison said. Friday. “This is what the minister is doing by taking this action today.”
Djokovic’s supporters in Serbia are stunned by the visa cancellations.
Everyone at the Australian Open – including players, their support teams and spectators – must be vaccinated. Djokovic has not been vaccinated.
His waiver was approved by the State of Victoria and Tennis Australia, apparently allowing him to obtain a visa to travel. But the Australian Border Force rejected the waiver and canceled his visa when he landed in the country.
Djokovic spent four nights in an immigration detention hotel before a judge overturned that decision. That statement allowed him to move freely through Australia and he practices daily in Melbourne Park.
“It’s not a good situation for anyone,” said Andy Murray, a three-time Grand Slam champion and five-time runner-up at the Australian Open. “It seems like it’s been dragging on for a long time.”
Under Grand Slam rules, if Djokovic is forced to withdraw from the tournament before the turnaround for Day 1 is known, Andrey Rublev would move to number 5 in Djokovic’s place in the bracket.
If Djokovic withdraws from the tournament after Monday’s game schedule was announced, he would be replaced in the field by what is known as a “lucky loser” – a player who loses in the qualifier but ends up in the main draw because another player before the match has started.
And if Djokovic plays in a match – or more – and is then told that he can no longer participate in the tournament, his next opponent simply moves on to the next round and there is no replacement.
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