Update: The news that Novak Djokovic has been granted a medical exemption that will allow him to play in the Australian Open despite refusing to reveal his vaccination status has spurred outrage in the country, up to its highest ranks. NBC News reports a "visibly angry" Prime Minister Scott Morrison address the exemption on Wednesday, saying that if Djokovic does not "provide acceptable proof that he cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons ... he’ll be on the next plane home. There should be no special rules for Novak Djokovic at all. None whatsoever." The BBC reports the tournament's head said there were 26 requests for exemptions and a "handful" were approved. Quipped Britain champ (and brother of Andy Murray) Jamie Murray, "I think if it was me that wasn't vaccinated I wouldn't be getting an exemption." Our original story from Tuesday follows:
Novak Djokovic will get a chance to defend his Australian Open title after receiving a medical exemption to travel to Melbourne, ending months of uncertainty about his participation because of the strict COVID-19 vaccination requirements in place for the tournament. It's a decision that the AP predicts will be widely debated in a city which endured months of strict lockdowns and harsh travel restrictions. Djokovic, who is seeking a record 21st Grand Slam singles title, has continually refused to reveal if he is vaccinated against the coronavirus. The Victoria state government has mandated that all players, staff, and fans attending the Australian Open must be fully vaccinated unless there is a genuine reason why an exemption should be granted.
Australian Open organizers issued a statement Tuesday confirming Djokovic will be allowed to compete at the tournament, which starts on Jan. 17, and is on his way to Australia. Per the statement, the medical exemption "was granted following a rigorous review process involving two separate independent panels of medical experts." Tennis Australia said the process included the redaction of personal information to ensure privacy for all applicants. That means Djokovic was not obliged to make his exemption public, though reaction on social media quickly turned to questions about the grounds for Djokovic’s exemption.
Victoria state Deputy Premier James Merlino last month said the medical exemptions were "not a loophole for privileged tennis players. It is a medical exemption in exceptional circumstances if you have an acute medical condition." Others questioned what quarantine conditions he will have to meet on arrival in Australia. Last year, all foreign players had to spend two weeks in hotel quarantine before the Australian Open, pushing the year's first major back from its usual mid-January start. The 34-year-old Djokovic has won nine of his 20 major titles at the Australian Open. He shares the men’s record for most majors with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
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