Novak Djokovic gets special vaccine exemption to enter Australia for the Open in Melbourne


Novak Djokovic will defend his Australian Open title after a months-long battle with the government, officials and event organisers, as the tennis star reveals he has been granted a rare exemption from being vaccinated against Covid.

The world no.1 revealed through an Instagram post on Tuesday night he was set to travel to Melbourne ahead of the year’s first Grand Slam starting on January 17, saying he had been granted ‘exemption permission’.

It marks a stark change in tact from both the Victorian government and Tennis Australia, with both vowing as recently as November that unvaccinated players would not be welcome – although Djokovic has never explicitly said whether he is or isn’t jabbed.

Currently vaccination exemptions are only handed out in Australia to people who have had anaphylaxis after a previous vaccine or an ingredient in the provided jabs.

People who are immunocompromised can also receive an exemption in some circumstances.

Australian Open organisers say the medical exemption was granted through a ‘rigorous review process’ that went via the country’s Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) guidelines and was approved by Victoria’s health department.

The move is likely to outrage many Australians, who have been told they cannot re-enter their own country unless they’re fully vaccinated or face two weeks in strict hotel quarantine, with many already expressing their fury online.

Novak Djokovic will play in this year’s Australian Open after getting a medical exemption (Pictured: The tennis star heading to Melbourne to compete in the tournament)

Djokovic is understood to be one of several players given medical exemptions to play at the Australian Open, despite members of the crowd having to be jabbed to watch (pictured, crowds at the ATP Cup in Sydney on January 4)

Djokovic is understood to be one of several players given medical exemptions to play at the Australian Open, despite members of the crowd having to be jabbed to watch (pictured, crowds at the ATP Cup in Sydney on January 4)

WHY IS DJOKOVIC EXEMPT? 

Australia’s Department of Health says medical exemptions are handed out if the individual has an ‘acute major medical condition’.

Under the guidelines, these conditions could include: 

– Inflammatory cardiac illness in the last three months 

– Undergoing major surgery or hospital admission for a serious illness 

– A Covid-19 diagnosis that means vaccination cannot be made for six months

– Any serious effect to a Covid-19 vaccine in the past (Note: Djokovic has not confirmed whether or not he has been jabbed)

– If the vaccine is a risk to themselves or others during the vaccination process 

– Underlying developmental or mental health disorders 

Victoria’s Deputy Premier James Merlino said last month that medical exemptions are ‘not a loophole’. 

‘Medical exemptions are just that,’ he said. ‘It’s not a loophole for privileged tennis players. 

‘They are medical exemptions in exceptional circumstances – if you have acute medical conditions.’

‘It’s been made very clear when the Premier announced that in order to participate at the Australian Open, to come into Victoria, you’ll need to be fully vaccinated,’ TA CEO and Australian Open Tournament Director Craig Tiley said last year. 

‘It is the one direction that you take, that you can ensure everyone’s safety. All the playing group understands it. Our patrons will need to be vaccinated, all the staff working the Australian Open need to be vaccinated.

‘When we’re in a state where there’s more than 90 percent of the population fully vaccinated, it’s the right thing to do.’

Likewise, Victorian Premier Dan Andrews said last year he would not ‘facilitate’ unvaccinated tennis stars entering the country. 

‘I’m not very well going to say to people that they can’t go to the pub tonight unless they’re double vaxxed, but certain high-profile people who choose not to be vaccinated… I’m not going to be facilitating them coming here,’ he said defiantly.  

But in a brief post on Instagram, the 20-time grand slam winner and nine-time Australian Open champion revealed he was heading to Melbourne.

‘I’ve spent fantastic quality time with my loved ones over the break and today I’m heading Down Under with an exemption permission. Let’s go 2022 !! ‘ he wrote.

Since he’s been granted an exemption, Djokovic won’t have to enter two weeks of hotel quarantine – like un-vaccinated arrivals must.

Instead, he will have to follow the same rules as fully-vaccinated travellers – taking a PCR test on arrival and isolating until the result comes through. 

There had been reports in the past week in Serbian media that his exemption request had failed, with Mr Tiley saying ATAGI conditions dictated players either be vaccinated or have the appropriate medical exemption.

Djokovic was due to play at the ATP Cup in Sydney this week, but his absence combined with the words of his national teammate Dusan Lajovic had fans doubting the reigning champion would appear.

‘He said, ‘I’m not coming guys to the ATP Cup; we’ll see about the Australian Open’. I mean, he didn’t specify if he’s coming or not but that he’s waiting for a decision,’ Lajovic said. 

In a brief post on Instagram, the 20-time grand slam winner and nine-time Australian Open champion revealed he was heading to Melbourne (pictured, the tennis star after winning the Open in 2021)

In a brief post on Instagram, the 20-time grand slam winner and nine-time Australian Open champion revealed he was heading to Melbourne (pictured, the tennis star after winning the Open in 2021)

The Serbian world No 1 has packed his bags and will take part in the January 17 tournament - revealing the move to fans on social media (pictured)

The Serbian world No 1 has packed his bags and will take part in the January 17 tournament – revealing the move to fans on social media (pictured)

Poll

SHOULD UN-VAXXED TENNIS STARS BE GIVEN EXEMPTIONS TO FLY TO AUSTRALIA?

In a statement to Daily Mail Australia, Tennis Australia said certified proof of vaccination or valid medical exemptions would be the only way into the country or a person would have to serve 14 days in hotel quarantine.  

They denied the suggestion it was seeking ‘loopholes’ to help Djokovic enter the country.

‘Any application for a medical exemption must follow strict government guidelines based on ATAGI (Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation) clinical advice,’ a Tennis Australia spokeswoman told Daily Mail Australia.

‘This is the same process that applies to any person wanting to enter Australia.

‘Adjudicating on medical exemptions is the domain of independent medical experts. We are not in a position to influence this process and nor would we.’ 

It comes as Victoria could be set to reinstate a raft of Covid restrictions amid concerns over soaring Omicron case numbers.

The state government would not be drawn in on capping crowd numbers ahead of the Aus Open, but said it would likely introduce a number of ‘common sense measures’. 

Djokovic has been outspoken against mandatory vaccinations, despite contracting the virus last year while hosting a party in the middle of the pandemic (pictured with his wife Jelena in 2019)

Djokovic has been outspoken against mandatory vaccinations, despite contracting the virus last year while hosting a party in the middle of the pandemic (pictured with his wife Jelena in 2019)

Mr Tiley spoke to Today about the granting of a small number of exemptions to unvaccinated players competing at Melbourne Park, saying they had been reviewed anonymously by medical professionals.  

‘Coming into Australia, every athlete coming in has to be vaccinated and show proof of that, or has to have made application from a medical exemption. In the case of tennis players, that’s far more rigorous than anyone coming into Australia applying for a medical exemption,’ the TA CEO said.

‘There are two medical panels that assess any application, and they assess it in a blind way. They don’t know who the applicant is.

‘Against the guidelines, an exemption gets granted or not. The reason for granting the exemption remains private, between the panel and the applicant.

VICTORIAN GOVERNMENT STATEMENT IN FULL 

‘Any player who is granted a medical exemption will have gone through a two-stage, independent process to verify they have a genuine medical condition that meets the criteria for an exemption,’ the spokesman said.

‘Requests for a medical exemption are first made to Tennis Australia and they complete the first medical assessment.

‘If approved by the independent panel set up by Tennis Australia, the application is then reviewed by the Independent Medical Exemption Review Panel (IMERP), which was established by the Victorian Department of Health.

‘IMERP is made up of three highly qualified medical professionals, with expertise in cardiology, sports medicine and immunology.

‘The personal information of any applicant is redacted to ensure the independence of the process.’

Victorian Premier Dan Andrews (pictured) said last year he would not 'facilitate' unvaccinated tennis stars entering the country

Victorian Premier Dan Andrews (pictured) said last year he would not ‘facilitate’ unvaccinated tennis stars entering the country

‘We know of athletes that have applied for an exemption and in cases, it’s been granted.’

Mr Tiley said it is up to the players to reveal their vaccination status and the reasons for their exemptions. 

Furious Australians took to social media soon after the tennis star made the announcement on Tuesday night, with some threatening to boycott the event. 

The Australian Open tournament begins on January 17 and the ATP has revealed that 95 out of the top 100 men’s players have been vaccinated.  

In December, TA unveiled its Covid-19 vaccination protocols for this year’s tournament, including the process for stars seeking medical exemptions.

The Serbian tennis star (pictured on Melbourne's Brighton Beach in 2021) has repeatedly refused to confirm if he is vaccinated or not

The Serbian tennis star (pictured on Melbourne’s Brighton Beach in 2021) has repeatedly refused to confirm if he is vaccinated or not

Given he has an exemption, the tennis star will not need to quarantine for 14 days and will follow the same rules as fully-vaccinated arrivals - getting a PCR test and isolating until a result comes in (pictured, Djokovic on an Adelaide hotel balcony in 2021 after flying in for tournaments)

Given he has an exemption, the tennis star will not need to quarantine for 14 days and will follow the same rules as fully-vaccinated arrivals – getting a PCR test and isolating until a result comes in (pictured, Djokovic on an Adelaide hotel balcony in 2021 after flying in for tournaments)

If an exemption is considered valid, the medical exemption will be submitted to the Australian Immunisation Register and the identity of the player seeking an exemption will not be known.

Djokovic is yet to reveal whether he is jabbed but has been a vocal critic against mandatory vaccinations and said he doubted the effectiveness of vaccines against a virus that was constantly mutating.   

Prime Minister Scott Morrison previously echoed the Victorian premier’s sentiments, saying players wouldn’t be given preferential treatment and that the states would decided who did and didn’t enter. 

‘The same rules apply to everyone, whether you’re a grand slam winner, a prime minister, a business traveller, a student or whoever. Same rules,’ Mr Morrison said in October.

‘The states will set the rules about the quarantine as they are.’

Djokovic will now defend his crown in front of a crowd of fully-vaccinated Australians, all who had to get jabbed to enjoy their freedoms and some of whom may have spent two weeks in hotel quarantine upon their arrival into the country. 

Warning Victoria could be hit with MORE Covid restrictions as Dan Andrews considers bringing in dreaded rules in the face of the state’s horror Omicron wave 

By Miriah Davis 

Victorians could be slugged with a raft of hated Covid restrictions amid concerns over soaring Omicron case numbers, including a return to working from home.

Acting Premier Jacinta Allan revealed some ‘common sense measures’ were being considered on Tuesday as the state recorded 14,020 new cases. 

Rules expected to be reintroduced include working from home orders, density limits for pubs, restaurants and cafes as well as a ban on elective surgery.

Amid discussions, the state government has refused to comment on crowd limits ahead of the Australian Open on January 17. 

Rules expected to be reintroduced include working from home orders, density limits for pubs, restaurants and cafes as well as a ban on elective surgery (pictured, residents don masks as the stand by St Kilda Beach in Melbourne)

Rules expected to be reintroduced include working from home orders, density limits for pubs, restaurants and cafes as well as a ban on elective surgery (pictured, residents don masks as the stand by St Kilda Beach in Melbourne)

The state recorded 14,020 new cases on Tuesday with infections almost doubling from Monday's 8,577 infections (pictured, Victorians flock to get tested a PCR testing clinics amid the Omicron outbreak)

The state recorded 14,020 new cases on Tuesday with infections almost doubling from Monday’s 8,577 infections (pictured, Victorians flock to get tested a PCR testing clinics amid the Omicron outbreak)

WHAT RESTRICTIONS MAY BE REINTRODUCED IN VICTORIA?

– Work-from-home orders

– Density limits in pubs, restaurants and cafes 

– Elective surgery slowdown

This comes as cases in Victoria doubled from the 8,577 infections detected on Monday – with the state reporting two deaths among the 14,020 cases on Tuesday. 

There are currently 516 people in Victorian hospitals – up from 491 on Monday – with the number of active ICU admissions at 56 patients.

A further 52 patients who are no longer infectious with the virus remain in ICU.

While case numbers soar massive queues stretched across Melbourne for rapid ­antigen tests, PCR swabs and booster shots.

Four private pathology companies were forced to temporarily shut PCR tests at 54 sites in a bid to ease a backlog of results. 

The state’s Covid-19 commander Jeroen Weimar urged residents to ‘please be patient’ as only three out of 10 PCR results were processed the next day. 

However Mr Weimar also revealed one in four people returned positive PCR results – indicating undetected case numbers could be much higher. 

Soaring Covid cases could mean a return to some restrictions in Victoria, as long wait times for testing continue (pictured, a queue at the testing centre at Albert Park, Melbourne)

Soaring Covid cases could mean a return to some restrictions in Victoria, as long wait times for testing continue (pictured, a queue at the testing centre at Albert Park, Melbourne)

When asked if more restrictions could be on the table, Ms Allan said: ‘We’ll continue to look at if there are any other common sense measures that can be taken.’

‘Those are obviously matters (for the Health Minister) … to consider as we monitor very closely what’s going on in the Victorian community at the moment,’ she said. 

Chief health officer Professor Brett Sutton is expected to provide updated health advice as the week unfolds.

The state government is facing renewed calls for a reintroduction of restrictions as it’s estimated around 70 per cent of Victoria’s daily infections are of the Omicron variant while the state also battles the more severe Delta strain.  

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk