Coronavirus: Novak Djokovic was granted vaccine exemption after testing positive, lawyers say

MELBOURNE, Australia — Novak Djokovic, the world’s No. 1 men’s tennis player, contracted COVID-19 last month but was not experiencing symptoms and had a medical exemption from Australia’s vaccination rules, his lawyers said in a court filing on Saturday.

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Djokovic, 34, also had written clearance from Australia’s immigration department before traveling to the country to defend his title in the Australian Open, ESPN reported.

The nine-time winner of Australia’s Grand Slam event has been confined to a hotel in Melbourne as he challenges the revocation of his visa ahead of the two-week tournament.

“Mr. Djokovic had received, on 30 December 2021, a letter from the Chief Medical Officer of Tennis Australia recording that he had been provided with a ‘Medical exemption from COVID vaccination’ because he had recently recovered from COVID,” court documents published by Australia’s Federal Circuit stated.

Djokovic tested positive for COVID-19 on Dec. 16, but two weeks later “had not had a fever or respiratory symptoms of COVID-19 in the last 72 hours,” ESPN reported, citing the court filing.

On Jan. 1, Djokovic received “a document from the Department of Home Affairs that stated his responses “indicate(d) that (he met) the requirements for a quarantine-free arrival into Australia,’” the documents stated.

The legal challenge comes as a second player, women’s player Renata Voracova from the Czech Republic, left the country after her visa was canceled, the BBC reported.

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Djokovic is preparing for his challenge in the Federal Circuit Court on Monday, ESPN reported.

In a video message given to tournament staff members, tournament director Craig Tiley said the Australian Open is working to help Djokovic resolve the matter.

“There’s been a circumstance that relates to a couple of players, Novak particularly ... in a situation that is very difficult,” Tiley said in the video, according to News Corp. newspapers. “We’re a player-first event. We’re working closely with Novak and his team, and others and their team, that are in this situation.”

Djokovic announced in June 2020 that he and his wife had tested positive for the COVID-19, but his December infection had not previously been revealed, The New York Times reported.

According to the court filing, Djokovic’s lawyers argue that Australian authorities “radically and fundamentally” misconstrued or misapplied advice from Australia’s immunization advisory body about whether a COVID-19 infection within the past six months should exempt him from the vaccination requirement.

Attorneys also argue that Djokovic was denied procedural fairness after he arrived in Australia. The player was held by immigration authorities for eight hours, the Times reported.

The documents confirmed that Djokovic, who is opposed to vaccination, was unvaccinated when he arrived in Australia on Wednesday, CNN reported. The 20-time Grand Slam champion had flown from Dubai to Australia to defend his title.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters Thursday that Tennis Australia was advised in November 2021 that unvaccinated players with recent COVID-19 infections would not be allowed to enter the country, CNN reported.

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