Documents cast new light on Djokovic’s Australia debacle
Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt warned Tennis Australia that a previous Covid-19 infection would not be deemed sufficient for a medical exemption to enter the country, as the saga surrounding Novak Djokovic rumbles on.
A letter sent to the CEO of Tennis Australia more than a month before world number one Djokovic was denied entry to the country outlined the parameters for which a medical exemption might be considered.
It has been widely suggested that Djokovic, who is said to be unvaccinated despite not disclosing his status, was relying on recovery from a prior infection as grounds to approve his exemption as he sought to defend his Australian Open title and set a new all-time Grand Slam record in the process.
But Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison detailed on Thursday that Djokovic's application was "insufficient," suggesting that while he had been given a green light by Tennis Australia to play in the tournament, his immigration application had never been approved.
"The Australian Border Force has advised that people must be fully vaccinated, as defined by ATAGI (the national advisory body on vaccines) to gain quarantine-free entry into Australia," Hunt wrote in the letter dated November 29 and addressed to Tennis Australia chief Craig Tiley.
"In relation to your specific questions, I can confirm that people who contracted Covid-19 within the past six months and seek to enter Australia from overseas, and have not received two doses of a Therapeutic Goods Administration-approved or recognized vaccine are not considered fully vaccinated."
The document further states that it is the responsibility of the traveler, in this case Djokovic, to ensure that they meet the criteria set out by the Australian Border Force.
A separate letter dated November 18 to Tiley from the federal health department underscored that Australia wasn't considering a past infection as overruling the requirement for vaccination.
"ATAGI notes that natural immunity from past infection is recognized in several countries, however ATAGI also notes the challenge of confirming past infection and uncertainties of the duration of protection," Lisa Schofield of the National Covid Taskforce wrote.
"In response to your specific questions... people who have previously had Covid-19 and not received a vaccine dose are not fully vaccinated," she added.
It had been announced by Tiley prior to Djokovic's detention by border officials that he had qualified for an exemption but that it was up to the player to reveal the reasoning for it, should he choose to do so.
"If there are several reasons why they are unable to be vaccinated, ATAGI have set out very clear guidelines that have to be followed in order for you to be added to the Australian Immunisation Register and if you are added to that register, you are then exempt from a vaccination and can come into Australia," Tiley said this week.
"For tennis players, it was a process that was above and beyond what anyone coming to Australia would have experienced," he added.
However, it seems as if there may have been a rather significant case of wires being crossed as Hunt's letter indicates the Australian Immunisation Register applied only to domestic travel and not to overseas visitors such as Djokovic.