(Update 1: Adds details from minister, rewrites lede and headline, minor edits)
Sydney, Australia, Jan 5 (EFE).- Australia’s home affairs minister on Wednesday warned tennis stars that the federal government ultimately had the power to block entry, as the medical exemption from Covid-19 vaccination requirements granted to Novak Djokovic to play at the Australian Open sparked uproar.
The tournament requires proof of vaccination against Covid-19, and the world No. 1 has repeatedly refused to publicly reveal his vaccination status, so he was not expected to compete.
However, in a post on Instagram on Tuesday, the Serbian player announced he was on his way to Australia.
“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.
Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said Wednesday in a statement that while the “Victorian government and Tennis Australia may permit a non-vaccinated player to compete in the Australian Open, it is the Commonwealth government that will enforce requirements at the Australian border.”
“If an arriving individual is not vaccinated, they must provide acceptable proof that they cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons to be able to access the same travel arrangement as fully vaccinated travelers,” she added.
“Australian Border Force will continue to ensure that those who arrive at our border comply with our strict border requirements.”
The minister did not clarify what will happen if Djokovic – whose medical reasons for the exemption are unknown – does not comply with federal requirements at customs.
There are a handful of reasons that an exemption can be granted, including an acute major medical condition such as undergoing a major surgery, a serious adverse event attributed to a previous dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, or evidence of infection confirmed by PCR test in the previous six months.
Earlier, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and other officials had stated that all tennis players and team members should be fully vaccinated.
However, Morrison, who is facing a surge in Covid-19 cases, told reporters in Canberra Wednesday that the exemption is “a matter for the Victorian government,” and did not comment further on the controversy.
Open organizer Tennis Australia defended Djokovic’s participation by assuring that his exemption was the result of a rigorous process carried out by two independent panels of medical experts and in line with government guidelines.
The organizers also indicated that the personal medical information provided by the applicants is confidential and it was up to Djokovic to disclose the reasons for his exemption, which would be encouraged.
Meanwhile, the acting border force commissioner is looking into an “issue” with Djokovic’s travel declaration, national broadcaster ABC reported, without further details.
The decision to grant the exemption to the Serbian tennis star has caused uproar across the country.
Stephen Parnis, a Melbourne emergency physician and former vice-president of the Australian Medical Association, said it was an “appalling” decision.
“I don’t care how good a tennis player he is. If he’s refusing to get vaccinated, he shouldn’t be allowed in,” he wrote on Twitter. “If this exemption is true, it sends an appalling message to millions seeking to reduce #COVID19Aus risk to themselves & others. #Vaccination shows respect, Novak.”
Australian Football League great Kevin Bartlett in a tweet said that the public has “been taken for fools.”
Racing broadcaster Shane Anderson wrote on Twitter: “Australians couldn’t get exemptions to attend funerals, visit people in hospital, nursing or aged care homes. Spent months in lockdown. Jobs lost. But a healthy elite sportsperson gets a ‘medical exemption’ to compete at the Australian Open.”