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Djokovic tested positive in December: Lawyers

MELBOURNE, Australia — In a court filing Saturday, lawyers for Novak Djokovic said the tennis star had tested positive for the coronavirus in mid-December, and that the Australian government had erred this week in canceling his visa over a vaccine requirement.

Djokovic, who hopes to defend his men’s singles title at the Australian Open this month, was denied permission to enter the country Thursday after arriving at a Melbourne airport. Border authorities said they canceled his visa because he had not provided evidence to justify being exempted from Australia’s requirement that arrivals be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

In the filing, Saturday, Djokovic’s lawyers said he had been granted a vaccine exemption by Tennis Australia because of a positive Dec. 16 coronavirus test result, and because 14 days later, he had not had a fever or respiratory symptoms in 72 hours.

The conditions of the exemption were consistent with the recommendations of Australia’s immunization advisory body, the lawyers argued. Given these circumstances, among others, “Mr. Djokovic understood that he was entitled to enter Australia,” the filing read.

Djokovic, a vaccine skeptic, is in quarantine at a hotel in Melbourne as he awaits a hearing, scheduled for Monday, on his appeal of the government’s decision to revoke his visa.

He announced in June 2020 that he and his wife had tested positive for the coronavirus, but his December infection had not previously been disclosed.

Djokovic’s lawyers argue that Australian authorities, in canceling his visa, “radically and fundamentally” misconstrued or misapplied advice from Australia’s immunization advisory body about whether a coronavirus infection within the past six months should exempt him from the vaccination requirement.

The filing also claims that Djokovic was denied procedural fairness after arriving in Australia, when he was held at the airport by immigration authorities from about midnight to 8 a.m.

His lawyers say Djokovic was initially told by immigration officials that a decision about his visa would not be made until after 8:30 a.m., after he had a chance to speak to Tennis Australia officials. But around 6 a.m., they say, he was pressured to consent to an immediate decision. He relented, “feeling he had no choice,” and was notified at 7:42 a.m. that his visa had been canceled, according to the filing.

The Australian Border Force declined to comment on the filing, citing the pending court hearing. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said that the revocation of Djokovic’s visa was “simply a matter of following the rules.”

If Djokovic’s appeal fails, he could be barred from entering Australia for three years, under rules applicable to people whose visas are canceled.

Separately, the Australian Border Force on Saturday night said that two others linked to the tennis tournament whom it had been investigating had left the country.

“The Australian Border Force (ABF) investigation into the visa status of two other individuals connected to the Australian Open has concluded,” it said in an emailed statement. “The ABF can confirm both individuals have now voluntarily departed Australia.”

The statement did not identify the two individuals, but local news media had reported the investigations a few days earlier.

On Friday, the Czech foreign ministry confirmed in a statement that a Czech player, Renata Voracova, had been placed in the same detention as Djokovic, along “with several other tennis players.” She had “proven noninfectious status in a way that entitles her to participate in the tournament,” and had already played at a warm-up event, the statement said, but had “decided to give up further participation in the tournament and leave Australia due to the limited possibility of training.”

The Australia Broadcasting Corp. also reported that a European tennis official under similar circumstances had left the country.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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