On Friday, Australia revoked Novak Djokovic’s visa for the second time, citing concerns that the world tennis number one, who has not been immunized against COVID-19, may constitute a health danger.
After a judge invalidated an earlier revocation on COVID-19 entrance requirements and freed Djokovic from immigration detention on Monday, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke invoked discretionary powers to deny Djokovic’s visa once more.
Djokovic, 34, had the opportunity to appeal the cancellation, and a judge stated it will hold a preliminary hearing on the visa at 0945 GMT. It didn’t go into detail.
The Age newspaper reported that the Serbian, who was bidding for a record 21st Grand Slam title at the Australian Open from Monday, had been summoned to appear before immigration officials on Saturday and would not be returned to detention in the meantime.
“Today I exercised my power under Section 133C(3) of the Migration Act to cancel the visa held by Mr Novak Djokovic on health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so,” Hawke said in a statement.
Under Section 133C, Djokovic would not be able to secure a visa to Australia for three years, except in compelling circumstances.
A source close to Djokovic’s team said he was weighing his options. Hawke’s office was not available for comment.
The controversy has intensified a global debate over the rights of the unvaccinated and become a tricky political issue for Prime Minister Scott Morrison as he campaigns for an election due by May.
While Morrison’s government has won support at home for its tough stance on border security during the pandemic, it has not escaped criticism for the seemingly inconsistent handling of Djokovic’s visa application
“Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected,” Morrison said in a statement.
“This is what the minister is doing in taking this action today. Our strong border protection policies have kept Australians safe,” he said, adding he would be making no further comment in view of expected legal proceedings.
Djokovic, the Australian Open defending champion, was included in the draw as top seed and was due to face fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic for his opening match next week.
Looking relaxed, he had practised his serves and returns with his entourage on an empty court at Melbourne Park earlier on Friday, occasionally resting to wipe sweat from his face.
The vaccine sceptic angered many in Australia when he announced last week that he was heading to Melbourne with a medical exemption to requirements for visitors to be inoculated against COVID-19.
When he arrived, Australian Border Force decided his exemption was invalid and put him in an immigration detention hotel alongside asylum-seekers for several days.
Hawke said he had carefully considered information from Djokovic and Australian authorities, adding the government was “firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic”.
Australia has endured some of the world’s longest lockdowns, has a 90% vaccination rate among adults, and has seen a runaway Omicron outbreak bring nearly a million cases in the last two weeks.