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China Drops Plans to Sell Olympic Tickets as COVID Cases Rise 

China on Monday canceled plans to sell tickets to the public for the Winter Olympics in Beijing, as the number of COVID-19 cases in the country reached its highest point since March 2020. 

Organizers said last year there would be no international spectators at the Games – partly due to China’s weeks-long quarantine requirements – but they had promised to allow domestic audiences. 

But those plans were scrapped Monday as China reported 223 new infections just three weeks before the Winter Olympics are set to open. 

“In order to protect the health and safety of Olympic-related personnel and spectators, it was decided to adjust the original plan to sell tickets to the public and (instead) organize spectators to watch the Games on-site,” the Beijing Olympic organizing committee said in a statement. 

It is unclear how these spectators will be selected and whether they will have to quarantine before or after the Games. 

China, where the virus first emerged in late 2019, has stuck to a strict policy of targeting zero COVID-19 cases even as the rest of the world has reopened. 

But its approach has come under sustained pressure in recent weeks with multiple virus clusters in key areas, including the port of Tianjin and the southern manufacturing region of Guangdong. 

Athletes and officials have already started to land in the capital ahead of the Games, immediately entering a tightly controlled bubble separating them from the rest of the population. 

After a local case of the highly infectious omicron strain was detected in Beijing over the weekend, authorities also tightened regulations for arrivals from elsewhere in China. 

The capital is now demanding a negative test before travel and a follow-up test after entering, with residents urged not to leave the city for the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday. 

Some tourist sites have also been closed. 

A senior health official told residents to “avoid buying goods from overseas” after saying the local case could have been brought in by international post. 

The infected woman in Beijing had not traveled or had contact with other infected people, authorities said as they tested 13,000 people living or working in the same area. 

Health official Pang Xinghuo told reporters the virus had been found on the surface of a letter the infected person had received from Canada. 

Dozens of letters from the same batch were tested and five showed traces of COVID-19, Pang said. 

The strain was different from omicron cases in China and similar to variants identified from North America last month, she added. “We come to the conclusion that the possibility of virus infection through inbound objects cannot be ruled out.” 

Therefore, residents should “try to avoid buying goods from overseas during outbreaks”, Pang said. “If you receive overseas mail, you should wear masks and disposable gloves to reduce direct contact.” 

She advised people to “open the packages outdoors.” 

China has linked a number of its virus clusters to products imported from overseas. 

A theory from Beijing that the virus did not originate in China but was imported in frozen food was judged “possible” but very unlikely in a report last year by international experts appointed by the World Health Organization. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States says on its website it is “possible” for people to be infected through contact with contaminated surfaces or objects – but the risk is low. 

Within three days, there should be a 99% reduction in any virus traces left on surfaces. 

Analysts have warned that China’s zero-COVID approach – which includes targeted lockdowns and travel restrictions – will increasingly weigh on the economy. 

Some 68 COVID-19 cases were reported Monday across central Henan province, where partial lockdowns and mass testing have been rolled out for millions of residents. 

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Somalia’s Capital Sees Influx of People Fleeing Drought

The worst drought in Somalia in decades has millions of people dependent on food aid and thousands flocking to cities to escape hunger. At makeshift shelters on the outskirts of the capital, displaced people face cramped conditions and poor sanitation in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mohamed Sheikh Nor reports from Mogadishu. Camera: Mohamed Sheikh Nor

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EXPLAINER: Scientists Struggle to Monitor Tonga Volcano After Massive Eruption

Scientists are struggling to monitor an active volcano that erupted off the South Pacific island of Tonga at the weekend, after the explosion destroyed its sea-level crater and drowned its mass, obscuring it from satellites. 

The eruption of Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano, which sits on the seismically active Pacific Ring of Fire, sent tsunami waves across the Pacific Ocean and was heard some 2,300 kms (1,430 miles) away in New Zealand. 

“The concern at the moment is how little information we have and that’s scary,” said Janine Krippner, a New Zealand-based volcanologist with the Smithsonian Global Volcanism Program. “When the vent is below water, nothing can tell us what will happen next.” 

Krippner said on-site instruments were likely destroyed in the eruption and the volcanology community was pooling together the best available data and expertise to review the explosion and predict anticipated future activity. 

Saturday’s eruption was so powerful that space satellites captured not only huge clouds of ash but also an atmospheric shockwave that radiated out from the volcano at close to the speed of sound. 

Photographs and videos showed grey ash clouds billowing over the South Pacific and meter-high waves surging onto the coast of Tonga. 

There are no official reports of injuries or deaths in Tonga yet, but internet and telephone communications are extremely limited and outlying coastal areas remain cut off. 

Experts said the volcano, which last erupted in 2014, had been puffing away for about a month before rising magma, superheated to around 1,000 degrees Celsius, met with 20-degree seawater on Saturday, causing an instantaneous and massive explosion. 

The unusual “astounding” speed and force of the eruption indicated a greater force at play than simply magma meeting water, scientists said. 

As the superheated magma rose quickly and met the cool seawater, so did a huge volume of volcanic gases, intensifying the explosion, said Raymond Cas, a professor of volcanology at Australia’s Monash University.

Some volcanologists are likening the eruption to the 1991 Pinatubo eruption in the Philippines, the second-largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century, which killed around 800 people. 

The Tonga Geological Services agency, which was monitoring the volcano, was unreachable on Monday. Most communications to Tonga have been cut after the main undersea communications cable lost power. 

Lightning strikes 

American meteorologist, Chris Vagasky, studied lightning around the volcano and found it increasing to about 30,000 strikes in the days leading up to the eruption. On the day of the eruption, he detected 400,000 lightning events in just three hours, which comes down to 100 lightning events per second. 

That compared with 8,000 strikes per hour during the Anak Krakatau eruption in 2018, caused part of the crater to collapse into the Sunda Strait and send a tsunami crashing into western Java, which killed hundreds of people.

Cas said it is difficult to predict follow-up activity and that the volcano’s vents could continue to release gases and other material for weeks or months. 

“It wouldn’t be unusual to get a few more eruptions, though maybe not as big as Saturday,” he said. “Once the volcano is de-gassed, it will settle down.” 

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New Zealand Begins Vaccinating 5-to-11-Year-Olds

New Zealand began inoculating 5- to11-year-old children Monday with Pfizer’s pediatric COVID vaccine. More than 120,000 vaccines have been delivered to 500 vaccination centers around the country, the health ministry said.  

“Getting vaccinated now is a great way to help protect tamariki (children) before they go back to school,” Dr. Anthony Jordan, Auckland’s COVID-19 vaccination program clinical director, said in a statement. “The evidence shows that while children may have milder symptoms, some will still get very sick and end up in hospital if they do get COVID-19. Getting vaccinated also helps to prevent them from passing it on to vulnerable family members,” he added. 

The omicron surge has not yet peaked in the U.S., Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. surgeon general, warned Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union. “The next few weeks could be tough,” he cautioned, but noted that there has been a drop in cases in some locations, including New York and New Jersey.  

The new self-isolation period for people with COVID in England has been reduced from ten days to five full days. The new measure went into effect Monday. 

“This is a balanced and proportionate approach to restore extra freedoms and reduce the pressure on essential public services over the winter,” Health Secretary Sajid Javid said. “It is crucial people only stop self-isolating after two negative tests to ensure you are not infectious.” 

The Credit Suisse Group, a Switzerland-based global investment bank, has announced the resignation of its chairman Antonio Horta-Osorio, after an investigation revealed that Horta-Osorio had violated COVID-19 protocols, including attending Wimbledon tennis tournament finals in London in July.  

“I regret that a number of my personal actions have led to difficulties for the bank and compromised my ability to represent the bank internally and externally,” Horta-Osorio said in a statement on the Credit Suisse’s website. 

UNICEF’s executive director said Saturday’s shipment of 1.1 million COVID-19 vaccines to Rwanda “included the billionth dose supplied to COVAX.” Henrietta Fore said, “With so many people yet to be offered a single dose, we know we have much more to do.” 

COVAX is the international alliance working to ensure that equitable allotment of COVID-19 vaccines to low- and medium-income countries. 

The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reported early Monday that it has recorded 328.1 million global COVID-19 infections and 5.5 million deaths. The center said 9.7 billion vaccines have been administered.  

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Millions Hunker Down As Storm Hits Eastern US

Millions of Americans hunkered down as a major winter storm hit the eastern United States with heavy snow and ice knocking power out for an estimated 130,000 customers as of early Monday.   

The National Weather Service (NWS) said the storm was bringing a miserable combination of heavy snow, freezing rain and high winds, impacting the southeast and coastal mid-Atlantic before moving up to New England and southern Canada. 

A swath from the upper Ohio Valley north to the lower Great Lakes region could expect more than 30 centimeters of snow Monday, it warned. 

In all, more than 80 million people fell under the winter weather alerts, US media reported.

About 235,000 were without power Sunday but by early Monday that had fallen to around 130,000 along the east coast and Kentucky as supplies were restored, according to the website PowerOutage.US. 

The storm spawned damaging tornadoes in Florida and flooding in coastal areas, while in the Carolinas and up through the Appalachians icy conditions and blustery winds raised concerns.    

Transport was seriously disrupted, with thousands of flights canceled, and a portion of busy interstate highway I-95 closed in North Carolina. 

More than 3,000 flights within, into or out of the United States were canceled Sunday.   

Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina was the worst-affected with 95 percent of its flights grounded, according to the FlightAware website. A further 1,200 flights had been canceled early Monday.   

State of emergency

Drivers were warned of hazardous road conditions and major travel headaches from Arkansas in the south all the way up to Maine, on the Canadian border. 

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp had declared a state of emergency on Friday, and snowplows were at work before noon to clear the roads. 

Virginia and North Carolina also declared states of emergency.   

Virginia State Police said on Twitter they had responded to almost 1,000 crashes and disabled vehicles on Sunday. “Mostly vehicle damage. No reported traffic deaths,” the force said.   

A “multi-vehicle backup,” along with minor crashes, had earlier stopped traffic on a major interstate in the southern part of the state.  

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said on Twitter that up to a foot of snow had fallen in some areas by midday, and that “significant icing is causing trouble in the Central part of the state” as he reminded people to stay inside and avoid travel if possible.   

Also in North Carolina, students were shaken up after the storm caused the roof of a college residence hall to collapse, according to a local ABC news station, though no one was hurt.   

“Very scary,” Brevard College sophomore Melody Ferguson told the station. “I’m still shaking to this moment.” 

The NWS even reported some snow flurries in Pensacola, Florida, while usually mild Atlanta, Georgia also saw snow. 

The storm is expected to cause some coastal flooding, and the NWS warned that winds could near hurricane force on the Atlantic coast. 

The northeastern United States already experienced snow chaos earlier this month. When a storm blanketed the northeast, hundreds of motorists were stuck for more than 24 hours on a major highway linking to the capital Washington.  

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Third Blow for Millions in India’s Vast Informal Sector as Cities Impose Curbs

On a cold winter afternoon in the Indian capital, New Delhi, a group of auto rickshaw drivers huddled outside a metro station hoping to pick up passengers. Since the city shut schools, colleges, restaurants and offices to cope with a third wave of the pandemic fueled by the omicron variant, though, they know their wait could be long and probably futile.

“We work on the streets and depend on people being out,” Shivraj Verma said.

“Now I will not be able to earn enough to even buy food in the city. We get crushed when the city closes.”

This is the third consecutive year that tens of millions of workers in India’s vast informal economy are confronting a loss of livelihoods and incomes as megacities such as New Delhi and Mumbai, which are the epicenter of the new wave, partially shutter.

 

While India has not enforced a stringent nationwide lockdown as it did in 2020, Delhi has closed offices, imposed a weekend and night curfew and restricted large gatherings. In the business hub of Gurugram, markets shut early as part of measures to curb the spread of coronavirus.

For those that work on the street, though, contracting the virus is of little concern — their masks hang loosely on their faces, only to be pulled up when a policeman, who might impose a fine, passes by. Their pressing problem is to earn enough money to feed families, send children to school and pay rent for their tiny tenements.

In the lives-versus-livelihoods debate that has posed one of the pandemic’s greatest dilemmas, their vote is squarely with the latter.

“We don’t worry about the virus, we worry about how to take care of our families. I will have to return again to my village if the situation stays the same,” auto rickshaw operator Mohammad Amjad Khan said.

Khan was among millions of migrants returned to their villages when India witnessed a mass exodus in 2020. He only picked up the courage to return to Delhi after a year and a half in September. At that time India had recovered from its devastating second wave.

Its cities were humming, restaurants and markets were packed, and businesses saw a revival. As India’s economy picked up pace briskly, Khan made a decent living from the auto rickshaw he took on hire to ferry customers and could send some money home. The pandemic appeared to have become a distant memory.

 

The good times lasted for four months. From less than 7,000 new cases a day in mid-December, India has been counting more than a quarter million in recent days. As cities like Delhi hunker indoors, earnings have again plummeted.

“Now I don’t even make enough money to pay for the daily hire of this vehicle. It’s really tough,” Khan said with a despondent shrug.

Indian policymakers have underlined the need to protect jobs.

At a meeting with chief ministers this week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that there should be minimal loss to the ordinary people’s livelihoods and related economic activity as the country battles the latest wave.

“We have to keep this in mind, whenever we are making a strategy for COVID-19 containment,” he said.

Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has reassured migrant labor that a lockdown will not be imposed.

On the ground however, even partial curbs hit hard the tens of thousands of vendors who line Indian streets – vegetable and fruit sellers, small kiosks selling chips, soft drinks and cigarettes, and food carts.

Anita Singh is allowed to operate her street cart that sells hot meals and snacks till 8 p.m., but in the last two weeks, there have been very few customers to serve.

 

“Most of my sales were to college students or in the late evening when people left offices. Now they are shut,” she said.

Employment has not returned to its pre-pandemic level since the Indian economy was battered by COVID-19 lockdowns, according to a recent report by the Center for Monitoring the Indian Economy. The report said that there are fewer salaried jobs, whereas daily wage work and farm labor has increased – a sign of economic distress.

“There has been a drop in average wages and daily earnings across sectors because of COVID stipulations,” said Anhad Imaan, a communication specialist with several nonprofit organizations working with migrant labor.

“Even in the construction and manufacturing sectors which have remained open, there is less work available per worker.”

That means the quality of lives of those in the informal sector has taken a huge hit.

“They used to spend much of what they earned on food and a place to stay and sent home whatever they saved,” he said, “Now they are down to subsistence levels.”

Although estimates vary widely, studies say millions in India have slipped below the poverty line during the pandemic. A study by Pew Research Center in March pegged the number at 75 million. Another one by the Centre for Sustainable Employment at Azim Premji University in May after India experienced a second wave put it at 230 million due to “income shocks.”

Whatever the numbers, it is a reality that the group of auto rickshaw drivers waiting for passengers knows too well. As they talked to each other, their top concern was whether there will be a lockdown and whether they should be heading home for a third time.

 

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COVAX Delivers Billionth Vaccine

The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center said early Sunday 326.2 million people around the world have been infected with the coronavirus, while 5.5 million deaths have been recorded. More than 9 billion vaccines have been administered, the center reported.

UNICEF’S executive director said Saturday’s shipment of 1.1 million COVID vaccines to Rwanda “included the billionth dose supplied to COVAX.” Henrietta Fore said, “With so many people yet to be offered a single dose, we know we have much more to do.”

COVAX is the international alliance working to ensure the equitable allotment of COVID vaccines to low- and medium-income countries.

One case of the omicron variant of the coronavirus has been detected in Beijing — a rare breach of the city’s strict containment measures — as Chinese authorities battle outbreaks elsewhere before the February opening of the Winter Olympics in Beijing and the start of the Lunar New Year.

A locally transmitted omicron infection was discovered in Beijing’s Haidaian district Saturday morning, Beijing disease prevention and control official Pang Xinghuo said at a news conference.

 

Pang said other occupants in the patient’s residential building and an office building were being tested and that access to 17 locations linked to the patient had been restricted.

Officials in the southern city of Zhuhai suspended the city’s bus service after uncovering seven cases of the highly contagious variant and advised residents to stay home.

Authorities in China are also trying to contain a series of outbreaks, including from the omicron variant, in the port city of Tianjin, the central city of Anyang and in other smaller cities, keeping millions of people in lockdown across the country.

Additionally, China’s National Health Commission spokesperson, Mi Feng, warned Saturday that China is facing “severe” challenges before the Feb. 1 beginning of the Lunar New Year amid the spread of omicron and delta variants.

“The Lunar New Year travel rush is about to start,” Mi noted. “The migration and gathering of people will increase significantly.”

In the next week or two, Americans will begin receiving free rapid home coronavirus tests from the U.S. government. Residents will have to request the tests on a designated website. The tests have been almost impossible to find in stores.

 

The Russian government on Friday delayed approving unpopular legislation that would have restricted access to public places without proof of COVID-19 vaccination, amid a surge in new infections.

The Associated Press reports the bill would have required Russians seeking to enter certain public places to have a QR code either confirming vaccination, recent recovery from COVID-19 or a medical exemption from immunization.

Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova said the measure was pulled due to uncertainty regarding its effectiveness as it was drawn up in response to the delta variant of the virus that causes COVID-19. The omicron variant is currently driving a surge in new infections in the country.

Meanwhile, a French court suspended an outdoor mask requirement in the streets of Paris. The requirement had been imposed Dec. 31 in an effort to suppress the spread of the omicron variant.

A court in Versailles on Wednesday suspended a similar outdoor masking requirement for the Yvelines region.

Some information for this report came from Agence France-Presse. 

 

 

 

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Microsoft Discloses Malware Attack on Ukraine Government Networks

Microsoft said late Saturday that dozens of computer systems at an unspecified number of Ukrainian government agencies have been infected with destructive malware disguised as ransomware, a disclosure suggesting an attention-grabbing defacement attack on official websites was a diversion. The extent of the damage was not immediately clear.

The attack comes as the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine looms and diplomatic talks to resolve the tense stand-off appear stalled.

Microsoft said in a short blog post that amounted to the clanging of an industry alarm that it first detected the malware on Thursday. That would coincide with the attack that simultaneously took some 70 government websites temporarily offline.

The disclosure followed a Reuters report earlier in the day quoting a top Ukrainian security official as saying the defacement was indeed cover for a malicious attack.

Separately, a top private sector cybersecurity executive in Kyiv told The Associated Press how the attack succeeded: The intruders penetrated the government networks through a shared software supplier in a so-called supply-chain attack in the fashion of the 2000 SolarWinds Russian cyberespionage campaign targeting the U.S. government.

Microsoft said in a different, technical post that the affected systems “span multiple government, non-profit, and information technology organizations.” It said it did not know how many more organizations in Ukraine or elsewhere might be affected but said it expected to learn of more infections.

“The malware is disguised as ransomware but, if activated by the attacker, would render the infected computer system inoperable,” Microsoft said. In short, it lacks a ransom recovery mechanism.

Microsoft said the malware “executes when an associated device is powered down,” a typical initial reaction to a ransomware attack.

Microsoft said it was not yet able to assess the intent of the destructive activity or associate the attack with any known threat actors. The Ukrainian security official, Serhiy Demedyuk, was quoted by Reuters as saying the attackers used malware similar to that used by Russian intelligence. He is deputy secretary of the National Security and Defense Council.

A preliminary investigation led Ukraine’s Security Service, the SBU, to blame the web defacement on “hacker groups linked to Russia’s intelligence services.” Moscow has repeatedly denied involvement in cyberattacks against Ukraine.

Tensions with Russia have been running high in recent weeks after Moscow amassed an estimated 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s border. Experts say they expect any invasion would have a cyber component, which is integral to modern “hybrid” warfare.

Demedyuk told Reuters in written comments that the defacement “was just a cover for more destructive actions that were taking place behind the scenes and the consequences of which we will feel in the near future.” The story did not elaborate and Demedyuk could not immediately be reached for comment.

Oleh Derevianko, a leading private sector expert and founder of the ISSP cybersecurity firm, told the AP he did not know how serious the damage was. He said also unknown is what else the attackers might have achieved after breaking into KitSoft, the developer exploited to sow the malware.

In 2017, Russia targeted Ukraine with one of the most damaging cyberattacks on record with the NotPetya virus, causing more than $10 billion in damage globally. That virus, also disguised as ransomware, was a so-called “wiper” that erased entire networks.

Ukraine has suffered the unfortunate fate of being the world’s proving ground for cyberconflict. Russia state-backed hackers nearly thwarted its 2014 national elections and briefly crippling parts of its power grid during the winters of 2015 and 2016.

In Friday’s mass web defacement, a message left by the attackers claimed they had destroyed data and placed it online, which Ukrainian authorities said had not happened.

The message told Ukrainians to “be afraid and expect the worst.”

Ukrainian cybersecurity professionals have been fortifying the defenses of critical infrastructure since 2017, with more than $40 million in U.S. assistance. They are particularly concerned about Russian attacks on the power grid, rail network and central bank.

 

 

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CES-2022 Showcases the Latest Tech Innovations

This year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, was smaller this year because of COVID, but, as usual, the event drew companies that are dreaming big. Mariia Prus was among the journalists covering CES-2022, which ended Jan. 8, and has this report narrated by Anna Rice.
Camera: Mariia Prus

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Australian Court Adjourns to Consider Djokovic Verdict

Novak Djokovic’s fate now lies in the hands of three Australian Federal Court justices, after his last-gasp appeal against deportation adjourned Sunday pending a verdict that is expected later in the day.

The tennis star’s lawyers told an emergency hearing that the government’s effort to deport him on the eve of the Australian Open was “irrational” and “unreasonable”, but they faced pointed questions from the panel of justices who will now decide his case.

Novak Djokovic’s lawyers painted Australia’s effort to deport him as “irrational” and “unreasonable” Sunday, in an eleventh-hour bid to reinstate the tennis star’s visa and allow him to remain in the country to defend his Australian Open crown.

With just hours to go before the first ball is served at Melbourne Park, Djokovic’s high-powered legal team kicked off an emergency appeal in Australia’s Federal Court.

The hearing will decide whether the Australian Open’s top seed and defending champion can retain his title and become the first male player in history to win 21 Grand Slams.

His lawyer Nick Wood sought to systematically dismantle the government’s central argument that Djokovic’s anti-vaccine views are a public threat and could cause “civil unrest” unless he is deported.

Despite the 34-year-old being unvaccinated, Wood insisted he has not courted anti-vaxxer support and was not associated with the movement.

The government “doesn’t know what Mr. Djokovic’s current views are,” Wood insisted.

Government lawyer Stephen Lloyd said the fact that Djokovic was not vaccinated two years into the pandemic and had repeatedly ignored safety measures — including failing to isolate while COVID-19 positive — was evidence enough of his views.

“He’s chosen not to go into evidence in this proceeding. He could set the record straight if it needed correcting. He has not — that has important consequences,” the government said in a written submission.

Lloyd also pointed to a series of protests already sparked by Djokovic’s arrival in Australia.

Those competing arguments will be weighed by a panel of three court justices, who are expected to give their verdict Sunday, or Monday at the latest.

Because of the format of the court, their decision will be extremely difficult to appeal by either side.

If the Serbian star loses, he will face immediate deportation and a three-year ban from Australia — dramatically lengthening his odds of winning a championship he has bagged nine times before.

‘We stand by you’

If he wins, it sets the stage for an audacious title tilt and will deal another humiliating blow to Australia’s embattled prime minister ahead of elections expected in May.

Scott Morrison’s government has tried and failed to remove Djokovic once before — on the grounds he was unvaccinated and that a recent COVID infection was not sufficient for a medical exemption.

A lower circuit judge ruled that officials at Melbourne airport made procedural errors when canceling his visa.

For a few days, Djokovic was free to train before a second visa revocation and a return to a notorious Melbourne immigration detention facility.

Many Australians — who have suffered prolonged lockdowns and border restrictions — believe Djokovic gamed the system to dodge vaccine entry requirements.

Experts say the case has taken on significance beyond the fate of one man who happens to be good at tennis.

“The case is likely to define how tourists, foreign visitors and even Australian citizens view the nation’s immigration policies and ‘equality before the law’ for years to come,” said Sanzhuan Guo, a law lecturer at Flinders University.

The case has also been seized on by culture warriors in the roiling debate over vaccines and how to handle the pandemic.

Australia’s immigration minister Alex Hawke has admitted that Djokovic is at “negligible” risk of infecting Australians but argued his past “disregard” for COVID-19 regulations may pose a risk to public health and encourage people to ignore pandemic rules.

The tennis ace contracted COVID-19 in mid-December and, according to his own account, failed to isolate despite knowing he was positive.

Public records show he attended a stamp unveiling, a youth tennis event, and granted a media interview around the time he got tested and his latest infection was confirmed.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on Friday accused Australia of “mistreating” the country’s biggest star, and a national hero.

“If you wanted to ban Novak Djokovic from winning the 10th trophy in Melbourne, why didn’t you return him immediately, why didn’t you tell him, ‘It is impossible to obtain a visa’?” Vucic said on Instagram.

“Novak, we stand by you!”

‘With or without him’

Djokovic is currently tied with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal with 20 Grand Slam titles each.

Spanish great Nadal took a swipe at his rival on Saturday as players complained the scandal was overshadowing the opening Grand Slam of the year.

“The Australian Open is much more important than any player,” Nadal told reporters at Melbourne Park.

“The Australian Open will be a great Australian Open with or without him.”

Defending Australian Open women’s champion Naomi Osaka called the Djokovic saga “unfortunate” and “sad” and said it could be the defining moment of his career. 

 

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