World number one tennis player Novak Djokovic spent his second day in custody of Australian police after being denied entry into the country over his "vaccine exemption" pass which has boiled over into a political controversy. He was scheduled to compete in the Australian Open before he was detained at the Melbourne airport by security forces who said that he was unable to justify his vaccine exemption.
"Mr. Djokovic is not being held captive in Australia, he is free to leave at any time that he chooses to do so and Border Force will actually facilitate that," Australian Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews told reporters, refuting allegations that the tennis star was being "held captive" as alleged by Djokovic's family during an emotional press conference earlier this week.
"They are keeping him in captivity. They are stomping all over Novak to stomp all over Serbia," Srdjan Djokovic said of his son, at the press conference in Belgrade on Thursday where the family had displayed his trophies.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic accused the Australian government of harassment and persecution, allegations rejected by Canberra. However, other allegations made by critics say that the controversy was engendered by Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison in an effort to boost his reputation for fighting Covid-19, which the ruling conservative party has denied.
Djokovic initially received a visa with a vaccine exemption, a move which was widely criticised in Australia where vaccination has crossed 90% and which is now seeing a rise in Covid-19 cases. The tennis player had made several statements expressing his opposition of mandatory vaccination in the last year which prompted backlash from fans and the medical community, which said that Covid vaccines were probably the quickest way to end the pandemic.
Djokovic had received permission to enter Victoria from the state government, which does not have authority to issue visas to international visitors. While the reason for his medical exemption was not officially released, The Age newspaper reported it was on the basis that he had contracted COVID-19 in the past six months.
He will be present in court on Monday as the judge looks at the complex visa issue. States can issue vaccine exemptions which can be vetoed by the federal government. The state of Victoria said that Djokovic had received preferential treatment for his exemption as he had been on a list with 26 other applicants.
Australia is suffering from a sharp spike in Covid infectIons caused by the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the virus. Hospitals and helthcare centers have been seeing increased admissions leading to labour shortages and fears of a new lockdown, even as the Morrison government and Opposition engaged in a blame game.