Novak Djokovic can remain in Australia, court rules

By Meg Wagner, Mike Hayes, Helen Regan, Jack Guy and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 12:12 p.m. ET, January 11, 2022
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5:32 a.m. ET, January 11, 2022

Australian immigration minister is still considering Djokovic's case

Visitors at the Melbourne Park tennis centre in Melbourne on Tuesday.
Visitors at the Melbourne Park tennis centre in Melbourne on Tuesday. (William West/AFP/Getty Images)

Australia’s immigration minister is still considering whether to remove Novak Djokovic from the country, 24 hours after a judge ruled the tennis star could stay.

A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Alex Hawke told CNN: "As noted yesterday in the Federal Circuit and Family Court, Minister Hawke is considering whether to cancel Mr Djokovic’s visa under section 133C(3) of the Migration Act.
"In line with due process, Minister Hawke will thoroughly consider the matter.
"As the issue is ongoing, for legal reasons it is inappropriate to comment further."
11:24 p.m. ET, January 10, 2022

Australia has surpassed 1 million Covid-19 cases 

From CNN's Lizzy Yee

Cars line up at the Warringah Aquatic Centre Histopath Pathology Covid-19 drive-through testing clinic on January 10, in Sydney, Australia.
Cars line up at the Warringah Aquatic Centre Histopath Pathology Covid-19 drive-through testing clinic on January 10, in Sydney, Australia. (Jenny Evans/Getty Images)

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Tuesday the country must "keep moving forward" after it surpassed 1 million total reported Covid-19 cases amid a surge in new infections driven by the Omicron variant. 

New South Wales, the country's most populous state, accounts for nearly half a million cases since the pandemic began, according to a CNN tally. On Monday, it reported 18 Covid-related deaths, according to NSW Health — the highest single day total for the state.

As of Monday night, the number of active cases in the country stands at nearly 588,000, of which 445,000 came under investigation in the previous seven days, according to data issued by the Department of Health, States & Territories. 

Despite the emergence of Omicron, Morrison has dismissed the possibility of a lockdown.

"Omicron is a gear change and we have to push through. That’s what Omicron is about. We're dealing with serious volumes of cases but we are not seeing the same impact proportionally from previous variants," he said in a news conference. "You have two choices here. You can push through or you can lock down. We're for pushing through. That's how you get through this."

On Tuesday, New South Wales reported 25,870 new cases and Victoria — the state that's home to Australian Open host, Melbourne — added 37,994 new infections, according to state health authorities. 

9:45 p.m. ET, January 10, 2022

Australian and Serbian leaders discuss Djokovic 

From CNN's Angus Watson in Sydney

The Djokovic saga has now reached levels of international diplomacy after the Prime Ministers of Australia and Serbia discussed the situation in a call on Tuesday.

It comes as Australia’s immigration minister considered stepping in to remove the tennis player from the country, despite the court ruling in his favor.

“The PM had a constructive call with PM (Ana) Brnabić this morning on Novak Djokovic," according to a readout of the call from the office of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. "The PM explained our non-discriminatory border policy and its role in protecting Australia during the Covid-19 pandemic. They both agreed to stay in contact on the issue, and to further strengthening the bilateral relationship.”

Djokovic won an appeal to have his visa cancellation quashed Monday, drawing a warning from the Australian government that it reserved the right to use the personal powers of Immigration Minister Alex Hawke to remove him.

Hawke’s office said late Monday the minister had not yet decided. No public statement has been offered by Hawke’s office so far on Tuesday.

9:30 p.m. ET, January 10, 2022

It's 1:30 p.m. in Melbourne, Australia. Here's the latest on the Djokovic visa saga

Following hours of deliberations and technical glitches, an Australian judge on Monday quashed the government's decision to cancel Novak's Djokovic's visa and ordered him to be freed.

It is still unclear whether Djokovic will play in the Australian Open, which begins on January 17, as Australia's immigration minister still has the power to cancel his visa. However, the Serb tennis star has returned to training and made it clear he intends to play.

Here's a recap of Monday's events:

What happened: Monday's hearing was to determine whether Djokovic could remain in Australia. He had arrived on January 5, only to have his visa canceled and face temporary detention because he did not have a valid medical exemption for the Covid-19 vaccination requirement for all arrivals.

Why: Djokovic was under the impression he could enter the country because he had received a medical exemption from the tournament organizers, which had been granted on the grounds that he had natural immunity after being infected with Covid-19 in December, his defense argued.

The government's legal defense argued the tennis star did not provide evidence why he could not be vaccinated against Covid-19, adding that a previous Covid infection did not equate to a valid medical reason why he could not get the shot.

What the judge said: Justice Anthony Kelly appeared to acknowledge Djokovic's position, saying he was "agitated" by the burden placed on the tennis star. But the final decision to reinstate the visa was because Djokovic had not been given sufficient notice of his visa cancelation, or enough time by the government to prepare materials.

Further controversy: It emerged from Djokovic's sworn affidavit that he knew he had tested positive for Covid-19 on the same day he was photographed at three events, where none of the other participants were masked. The following day, he was also photographed at a youth awards event.

Beyond tennis: Djokovic's situation runs much deeper than a rejected visa. His dispute coincides with a steep rise in Australia's Covid-19 cases, which are approaching a pandemic total of 1 million. For many Australians, memories of painful border closures and other Covid restrictions remain fresh.

It has also highlighted the plight of asylum seekers in Australia — with dozens of refugees held inside the same detention hotel Djokovic stayed in who have been locked up for years, and who face indefinite detention under the country's tough immigration rules.

9:09 p.m. ET, January 10, 2022

Analysis: Djokovic won his court case but few Australians are cheering

Analysis from CNN's Hilary Whiteman in Brisbane, Australia

An Australian judge's stunning dismissal of the government's hasty attempt to deport the world No. 1 men's tennis player is a spectacular defeat for an administration that prides itself on strong borders.

Judge Anthony Kelly's ruling that Novak Djokovic be freed to contest the Australian Open overruled the government's insistence that he should be barred for failing to prove he is exempt from being inoculated against Covid-19.

Australia's small but vocal group of anti-vaxxers see Djokovic as a hero who took on the state — and won. Others, especially those from Australia's Serbian community, see him as a victim of unfair persecution. On Monday night, supporters crowded the streets outside the office of the Serb's Melbourne lawyer chanting, "Free Novak. Free Novak. Free Novak."

But for many Australians, the problem wasn't about Djokovic's paperwork — it was whether he considered himself above the country's pandemic rules at a time when Covid-19 case numbers are soaring.

On Monday, as Djokovic's lawyers argued their client did everything humanly possible to satisfy the government's requirements for an exemption from vaccination, Australia's Covid-19 cases neared a pandemic total of 1 million.

On the surface, those numbers may suggest the unvaccinated Djokovic doesn't pose a serious health risk to the Australian public, as the government argued. It may also suggest that Australia's strict anti-Covid measures have ended — and in many ways they have.

However, for millions of Australians, memories of uncompromising border closures and other pandemic restrictions remain fresh.

Months before a federal election, it can be assumed the ruling Liberal Party decided that allowing Djokovic into the country contradicted its messaging that vaccinations are the way out of the pandemic, and that the pain of the past two years to keep Covid cases low was worth it.

But in losing the court challenge, the government may have only succeeded in casting one of the world's most prominent anti-vaxxers as a victim and its officials as bullies using their executive power to make a political point.

Read the full analysis:

6:34 p.m. ET, January 10, 2022

Tennis group says events leading up to Monday's court hearing were "damaging" for Djokovic

From CNN’s Hira Humayun

The Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) called the series of events leading up to Novak Djokovic’s country hearing on Monday, “damaging on all fronts” – including to the athlete’s well-being, according to a statement from the association on Monday.

“In travelling to Melbourne, it’s clear Novak Djokovic believed he had been granted a necessary medical exemption in order to comply with entry regulations,” the statement read. “The series of events leading to Monday’s court hearing have been damaging on all fronts, including for Novak's well-being and preparation for the Australian Open," the statement adds.

ATP added that player medical exemption requests are made independently of the association but that it has been in “constant contact” with Tennis Australia to “seek clarity throughout this process.” The association welcomed the outcome of Monday’s hearing, in which a judge quashed the cancellation of Djokovic’s visa.

The association said it continues to strongly recommend vaccination for all players on the ATP tour, calling it “essential for our sport to navigate the pandemic.” It added that 97 percent of the Top 100 players are vaccinated leading into this year’s Australian Open.

“The ATP fully respects the sacrifices the people of Australia have made since the onset of COVID-19 and the stringent immigration policies that have been put in place,” the association said. It added, “Complications in recent days related to player entry into Australia have however highlighted the need for clearer understanding, communication and application of the rules.” 

5:17 p.m. ET, January 10, 2022

Catch up: Here's a timeline of events in the Novak Djokovic saga

On Monday, a judge in Melbourne ruled that tennis star Novak Djokovic should be released from detention, and the government's cancellation of his visa overruled.

If you're just joining us, here's a recap of events that have led up to now.

According to Djokovic's affidavit:

  • October or November 2021: Djokovic files for an Australian temporary entry visa to compete in the Australian Open.
  • Nov. 18: Djokovic is granted the visa.
  • Dec. 16: Djokovic tests positive for Covid-19. That same day, he is photographed at three events, where none of the other participants are masked. The following day, he is also photographed at a youth awards event.
  • Dec. 22: He tests negative for the virus.
  • Dec. 30: He receives a medical exemption from Covid vaccination for entry from Tennis Australia, on the grounds that he had just recovered from Covid.
  • Jan. 1: Djokovic's team submits his travel declaration to the Australian Ministry of Home Affairs, which notifies them that it has been assessed and he is cleared for quarantine-free arrival.
  • Jan. 2: Djokovic receives a Border Travel Permit by the state government of Victoria, where Melbourne is located and where the tournament will take place.
  • Jan. 4: Djokovic departs from Spain.
  • Jan. 5: He arrives in Melbourne late at night, close to midnight. His passport is taken, and he is escorted to a small room where he is interviewed by border control officers.
  • Jan. 6: His visa is canceled by the Australian government, and he is taken to a temporary detention facility at the Park Hotel in Melbourne.
  • Jan. 10: His hearing commences, with the judge deciding to quash the cancelation of his visa and order his release from detention. Australia's immigration minister still has the power to cancel the visa, however, and is "currently considering the matter," according to a statement.

5:03 p.m. ET, January 10, 2022

A judge ruled Novak Djokovic should be released from detention. So what happens next?

Despite the positive news for tennis star Novak Djokovic on Monday, whether he will be able to compete in the Australian Open later this month still remains unclear.

If Djokovic is allowed to stay, when will he play? Following his release from detention, the Serbian tennis star has returned to training, according to his brother. Djokovic has made clear in a series of tweets that he still intends to play in the tournament.

We don't know yet when Djokovic's first match would be, but the main draw is on is Thursday Jan. 13.

Will the Australian Open intervene and cancel his visa? Given that the Australian Open invited Djokovic to play in the tournament, this seems unlikely.

Djokovic has won the Australian Open a record nine times in his career. The 34-year-old Serbian has also won 20 grand slam singles titles -- an achievement matched by Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. If he were to win the tournament, he would break the all-time men’s singles grand slam record.