A Blog by Jonathan Low

 

Jan 15, 2022

Australia Feared Letting Djokovic In Would Fuel Anti-Vaxers During Covid Surge

He had become a menace to public health during the country's worst outbreak so far. Yes, he was infected with Covid in December, which provided a technical excuse for non-vaccination under Australian law as it implied increased immunity. 

But photos showed he met maskless with people while he knew he was infected. And if granted a vaccination exemption, his notorious anti-vax stance would have become a rallying cry. Denying his visa application under the circumstances, was good public policy. JL    

Stuart Condie reports in the Wall Street Journal, Image by Hamish Blair, AP:

Australia’s decision to cancel Novak Djokovic’s visa for a second time was driven by fear that letting him stay could foster antivaccine sentiment during a surge in Covid-19. He arrived during Australia’s largest wave of Covid-19 infections since the start of the pandemic as the government sought to persuade eligible people to get vaccinated. The Covid-19 wave has caused widespread disruption including hospital cancellations of procedures and empty supermarket shelves due to labor shortages. “His presence, given his well-known stance on vaccination, risks strengthening antivaccination sentiment." 

Australia’s decision to cancel tennis star Novak Djokovic’s visa for a second time was driven by fear that letting him stay could foster antivaccine sentiment during a surge in Covid-19 cases, court documents show.

Immigration minister Alex Hawke didn’t dispute Djokovic’s claim of a medical exemption from rules that travelers to Australia must be vaccinated against Covid-19, according to documents made public Saturday. Hawke, who canceled Djokovic’s visa on Friday, said allowing the player to stay could sway some Australians against getting vaccinated.

“Mr. Djokovic’s presence in Australia may pose a health risk to the Australian community in that his presence in Australia may foster antivaccination sentiment,” Hawke said in a document detailing his decision.

On Saturday, Djokovic returned to detention at Melbourne’s Park Hotel, which is used by the government to hold asylum seekers and refugees. Australia’s Federal Court will hear his visa-cancellation appeal on Sunday, after which he could be deported.

Djokovic, who is unvaccinated and spoke out against mandates as recently as November, was a heavy favorite to win the Australian Open, which begins Jan. 17.

He arrived during Australia’s largest wave of Covid-19 infections since the start of the pandemic as the government sought to persuade as many eligible people as possible to get vaccinated. The Covid-19 wave has caused widespread disruption including hospital cancellations of non-urgent procedures and empty supermarket shelves due to labor shortages.

“His presence in Australia, given his well-known stance on vaccination, creates a risk of strengthening the antivaccination sentiment of a minority of the Australian community,” Hawke said in the cancellation notice.

Many Australians, who have lived under some of the world’s toughest travel restrictions since the start of the pandemic, were angered by Djokovic’s attempt to get an exemption from vaccination rules. Others criticized his treatment as political point-scoring by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, whose ruling center-right government faces an election by May at the latest.

Djokovic was initially detained and held at the Park Hotel last week after immigration authorities decided his vaccine exemption wasn’t valid. On Monday, a court overturned the cancellation of his visa on technical grounds, freeing him to practice on the blue courts of Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena, before Mr. Hawke exercised his power as immigration minister to re-cancel.

Djokovic’s lawyer Nick Wood argued in a late-night court hearing on Friday that Hawke’s reasoning was flawed because he hadn’t considered that Djokovic’s deportation could have an impact on antivaccine sentiment.

“That seems patently irrational,” Wood said.

Lawyers for Djokovic and Hawke will file their final submissions to the Federal Court by Saturday evening. The court will hold a hearing at 9:30 a.m. local time Sunday and is scheduled to rule on Djokovic’s appeal against the visa cancellation.

Experts on immigration law have said Djokovic is unlikely to succeed unless the government makes a procedural error or the minister overreaches his power. A different court overturned the initial visa cancellation after immigration officials questioned Djokovic overnight for about eight hours but didn’t give him enough time to seek advice before they acted.

Hawke didn’t refute Djokovic’s contention that he posed a negligible health risk, documents showed. Djokovic has said his Covid-19 infection in December confers similar protection to a vaccine, the documents said.

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