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Australian Open Draw Delayed Amid Novak Djokovic Visa Saga; U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson Apologizes For Attending Party During Lockdown; Judge Rules Lawsuit Against Prince Andrew Can Proceed; No Breakthrough In Talks Between Russia And NATO; French Teachers Union To Strike Over COVID Rules; China Fights Multiple Outbreaks Ahead Of Winter Olympics. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired January 13, 2022 - 00:00   ET




PAULA NEWTON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Paula Newton.

Ahead right here on CNN NEWSROOM, will he stay or will he go? Novak Djokovic awaits a final decision on whether he'll be allowed to compete in the Australian Open or have his visa cancelled.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologizes for a lockdown party at Downing Street but it may not be enough to save his job.

And the sex abuse lawsuit against Prince Andrew will move forward after a judge rejects the British Royal's attempt to have the case thrown out.

And we are following new developments out of Australia this hour where the draw for the Australian Open is now set to take place this hour after being postponed just minutes before it was set to begin.

Now, no reason was given for the delay. But over the past week, the build up to the tournament has been largely centered around top-rated tennis player Novak Djokovic and of course, his visa controversy.

Djokovic says he's focused on competing in the first Grand Slam of the year. But his participation is far from guaranteed at this point. Australia's Immigration Minister says he's still considering whether to revoke his visa and remove him from the country.

Djokovic issued a statement Wednesday admitting he didn't immediately isolate after testing positive for COVID-19 last month, but he denied knowing he had the virus at several other public events where he was photographed without a mask. His mother had a similar explanation.


DIJANA DJOKOVIC, NOVAK DJOKOVIC'S MOTHER: He didn't know. Probably he didn't know it because when he under -- realize that he is positive, then he go to isolation because he didn't know. I really cannot say anything about that, maybe the best is to ask him. (END VIDEO CLIP)

NEWTON: Let me go straight to our Patrick Snell now for the latest. And Patrick, a lot of confusion around this draw and Djokovic's saga already affecting his fellow athletes.

PATRICK SNELL, CNN WORLD SPORT (on camera): Paula, this is just one dramatic plot twist after another, isn't it?

You know, at this hour, the top ranked men's player in the world Novak Djokovic still awaiting his fate to see if he can compete in the calendar years first Grand Slam. The Aussie Open which starts on Monday.

But look, the big talk from the last hour or so is what you just referenced there off the top, the tournament draw that we had all been so eagerly waiting for. We already knew Djokovic had been confirmed as the number one seed on the men's side of things, but really dramatic developments.

But I guess we shouldn't be too surprised, I mean, given what we've seen. In recent days, we've been following this saga, haven't we? Every step of the way, hour by hour, the men's and women's draw was due to start an hour ago, just over an hour ago. That's at 3:00 p.m. local time there in Melbourne, Australia.

But then, all of a sudden, just like that, postponement until further notice, no reason at all given to the media in attendance. So, then we waited to see what would happen next.

And now, we've just learned the draw will start by my calculations in about 11-12 minutes from right now. Assuming it does go ahead, again, we're following that one very closely.

Now, if Djokovic does get to play in the season's first Slam, he will have his sights set of course on the men's record 21st Grand Slam crown, taking him clear of his great rivals Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

But this is far from certain at this hour. And this of course, because it's all against the backdrop of events from earlier this week when a judge decided to quash the original cancellation of the 20 times Slam champ's visa and order is released from detention though. That same judge also saying that Australia's Immigration Minister still reserve the right to deport the Serbian superstar and that comes after a really dramatic -- another dramatic last 24 hours.

We saw the nine-time Aussie Open champion admitting he did not immediately isolate after a positive COVID-19 test last month. Denying though knowing he had the virus when attending public events, and a statement as well to his social media.

He also apologized for an apparently false travel declaration as well, saying it had been submitted on his behalf by a member of his support staff in human error.


SNELL: Djokovic also adding he himself made an error of judgment in doing a media interview and a photoshoot with a French sports newspaper after he tested positive.

But Paula, this is also fast moving and you know, what to expect in the coming hours really. We'll stay across it, you can be sure of that.

NEWTON: Yes, I'm sure you will, as that draw as you say is scheduled to go on just a few moments from now. Patrick, appreciate that update and I'm joined now by Ben Rothenberg who is in Melbourne for us. He's the senior editor for Racquet Magazine and the host of the No Challenges Remaining podcast. Good to see you again, never a dull moment.

What should we read into this postponement of the draw, if anything at all, but I will know, it's already affecting these fellow athletes, right? They can't be happy that the Djokovic circus is also affecting them.

BEN ROTHENBERG, SENIOR EDITOR, RACQUET MAGAZINE: No, I think words like circus and chaos are the right things to be reading into this sort of moment. I mean, the Australian Open yesterday and schedule a time for the draw. And we were all -- I was there, among the other gathered media. We're waiting outside the door patiently waiting for the draw to begin. It's the first event in this newly designed media center this year.

And then, at the very last minute, they cancel it and say, we don't know when it's going to happen. Now, they rescheduled it for a bit, but just wondering why this false start, they're not saying it's because of Djokovic and the lingering uncertainty over him.

But obviously, that's the massive backdrop and the massive, you know, shoe that's waiting to drop on this tournament and on Djokovic. And you're right, it is holding other players in suspense.

They can wait a couple more hours to find who their first opponents is -- opponents are, that's not going to really necessarily hurt their preparations too much. But it absolutely is still just holding the tournament in this state of suspended animation, and it's really really preoccupying for everyone here.

And certainly, there's no small amount of resentment towards Djokovic, and also probably towards the tournament for making all of this situation and mess happen.

NEWTON: Yes, and I want to get to the point about the organizers and the tournament, the professional association a minute, but you know, we saw that statement from Djokovic yesterday, which obviously he had hoped that it might put some of these controversies to bed, it did anything but in -- you know, more than a day now that has passed since he put out that statement, you know, how has it damaged his cause, really? Especially given public opinion there in Australia? ROTHENBERG: No, it certainly hasn't helped at all for him to admit that he was knowingly COVID positive and yet, going to engage in still having this interview with L'Equipe, where he was accepting an award that they're awarding him and doing a photo shoot with him maskless, all without informing the photographer or the reporter who was there to interview him that he was knowingly apparently tested positive for COVID according to the PCR results, he says he had gotten before that interview.

That certainly doesn't help his sort of reputation that's being -- or existing reputation for being a bad citizen, probably in terms of public health concerns during this event.

And so then, yes, so, then that doesn't hurt the -- help the public sentiment, it maybe clarifies a bit of the timeline, but not in a way that's going to turn Djokovic really, really any goodwill here.

NEWTON: Yes, not at all. And I want to get now to the professional organization. OK, you mentioned tennis Australia, who apparently, you know, paved the way for this medical exemption in the first place.

But there's also the ATP, the Professional Tennis Association, should they be taking more of a proactive position? Because this isn't just an immigration issue, right? It now involves Djokovic conduct off court, and whether he has been careless with other people's health.

ROTHENBERG: Yes, and I think the ATP has been a bit -- maybe a bit less stringent than they could have been in terms of enforcing vaccination rules, they could have required it for their events. They haven't done that. They've left this sort of small crack for players to continue traveling unvaccinated even though they're using language that they strongly urge players to get vaccinated, it's still been this one hold that Djokovic is causing this massive, massive stumbling block for the entire sport by staying obstinate and stubborn on this issue, yet still trying to play the tour all the way through, it really is something that they need to look at.

It's a larger issue with ATP actually in terms of how they sort of see their role in the sport. They refer often to players, independent contractors and sort of try to distance themselves from responsibility for player's misconduct off tour.

But this and a few other issues that have come up during the pandemic, especially, really, I think, highlight the need for stronger governance and stronger sense of accountability for the ATP among its ranks.

NEWTON: Yes, that's such a good point and good context, right? Because it's not what we've seen with the Premier League or the NFL or the NBA.

Ben, I know you're keeping on top of this and we will wait to see if that draw actually happens in the moments to come. Appreciate it and we will get back to you.

Now, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is apologizing for attending a bring your own booze. Yes, I'm reading that right. A BYOB party at Downing Street while the rest of the country was under lockdown.

But opposition lawmakers and even some from his own party aren't buying it.

CNN's Salma Abdelaziz has the latest from London.


KEIR STARMER, BRITISH LABOUR PARTY LEADER: Is he now going to do the decent thing and resign?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN REPORTER (voice-over): The famously unflappable Boris Johnson, the great political survivor, has finally flinched.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was hosting a boozy party in Downing Street.


ABDELAZIZ: After an outpouring of condemnation for attending what critics alleged was a bring your own bottle party at his official residence 10 Downing Street in May while the country was under strict COVID rules.

The prime minister says he saw it as a work event but finally made an apology of sorts.

BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Even if it could be set technically to fall within the guidance, there will be millions and millions of people who simply would not see it that way. People who suffered terribly, people who were forbidden from meeting loved ones at all, inside or outside, and to them and to this house, I offer my heartfelt apologies.

ABDELAZIZ: Without actually admitting to wrongdoing and citing a pending investigation, his apology stoking even more anger.

STARMER: After months of deceit and deception, the pathetic spectacle of a man who has run out of road, his defense -- his defense that he didn't realize he was at a party.

ABDELAZIZ: It's the first time the prime minister has even admitted to attending one of the multiple gatherings held by his staff while the country was essentially in a lockdown. Even though he was pictured at one such event seated alongside a bottle of wine and a cheese board.

JOHNSON: With hindsight, I should have sent everyone back inside.

ABDELAZIZ: To add salt to the wound, the event was held on a day with glorious weather, inviting to a public eager to get out but it came with another warning to stay vigilant.

OLIVER DOWDEN, BRITISH CONSERVATIVE MP: You can spend time outdoors and exercise as often as you like and you can meet one person outside your household.

ABDELAZIZ: Restrictions that were abided by at the highest levels at various points. The queen herself one of thousands of Britons forced to mourn the death of a loved one alone. It's a potentially lethal blow to Johnson and a scandal that's made casualties of top advisers and staff.


ABDELAZIZ: Now, he's losing the support of his own party with calls for his resignation. It's the biggest revolt he has seen so far. And though he may be a famous political escape artist, the party might soon be over.

Salma Abdelaziz, CNN, London.


NEWTON: Now, a U.S. judge has ruled that a lawsuit accusing Prince Andrew of sexual abuse can now go forward. Virginia Giuffre claims Jeffrey Epstein sexually trafficked her to the Prince when she was a teenager.

The Prince has steadfastly denied the charge and then tried to get the lawsuit dismissed but now, he faces a trial unless he reaches a settlement with Giuffre.

Max Foster reports.


MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Prince Andrew's accuser Virginia Roberts Giuffre says the British Prince first raped her in 2001. She says Andrew knew she was 17 at the time, and he was one of several men she was being trafficked to, by now notorious late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Giuffre alleges she met Andrew at the London town home of Epstein's longtime girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell, where he first abused her. The Prince claims he took his daughter to a pizza party that night, denying any encounter with Giuffre.

PRINCE ANDREW ALBERT CHRISTIAN EDWARD, DUKE OF YORK: I have no recollection of ever meeting this lady.

FOSTER: Then in 2010, two years after Epstein was convicted of two state prostitution charges in Florida, the Prince seen walking with a now registered sex offender in New York Central Park.

Soon, negative publicity about the Prince and Epstein's relationship begin to circulate.

The next year, another controversial image, this one of Andrew with his arm around his accuser, Virginia Giuffre allegedly taken at Ghislaine Maxwell's home in 2001. Andrew has suggested the photo could be fake.

PRINCE ANDREW: Nobody can prove whether or not that photograph has been doctored. But I don't recollect that photograph ever being taken.

FOSTER: Between 2014 and 2015, Giuffre alleges that in the past, Andrew sexually abused her at Epstein's private islands at Epstein's mansion in New York, and at Epstein's girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell's home in London.

Buckingham Palace responded that it is emphatically denied that the Duke of York had any form of sexual contact or relationship with Giuffre.

In 2019, Giuffre repeats her claims on television,

VIRGINIA GIUFFRE, PRINCE ANDREW'S ACCUSER: He knows what happened. I know what happened. And there's only one of us telling the truth. And I know that's me.

FOSTER: That same year, Epstein dies by suicide in his jail cell as he awaits trial for federal sex trafficking charges.


FOSTER: Then, in December, his former girlfriend was convicted of sex trafficking and other crimes related to Epstein's abuse scheme.

Now, a judge says the city lawsuit brought against Andrew can continue after the Prince's lawyers had tried to get it thrown out.

But the ruling doesn't determine the facts or validity of the case. If it's not settled, the British Royal could face trial between September and December of this year.

Max Foster, CNN, Hampshire, England.


NEWTON: Diplomatic talks aimed at averting a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine hit an impasse. We'll have the latest on the negotiations to deescalate the situation.

Plus, protesters tried to storm parliament over COVID restrictions as to WHO says a huge spike in COVID infections is actually worse than the number show. We'll have details on that next.


NEWTON: So, in the coming hours now, Russia will hold talks in Vienna with the OSCE the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and it will be the third attempt now this week. Trying to find a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine crisis now talks on Wednesday between Russia and NATO ended in stalemate, doing little to ease fears that Moscow might invade Ukraine.

Alex Marquardt reports now from Brussels.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR U.S. CORRESPONDENT (on camera): The talks between NATO and Russia on Wednesday appeared to end no closer to a solution for defusing the situation along the border with Ukraine.

Then, when they started, the Secretary General of NATO said that the talks were difficult. The head of the Russian delegation said the situation is quickly becoming intolerable. And the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State told CNN that they have not gotten any commitment that Russia will deescalate, take a listen.

WENDY SHERMAN, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: There was no commitment to deescalate, nor was there a statement that there would not be. They are a powerful country. The fact that they feel threatened by Ukraine, a smaller and still developing democracy is hard to understand, quite frankly.

MARQUARDT: This was the first time that Russia had sat down with NATO in two years and the fact that they sat at the table for four hours may be an indication that they are not quite yet ready to give up diplomacy but they are complaining that their proposals to deescalate are being ignored by NATO.

NATO and the U.S. had dismissed before this meeting even started. The Russian demands that Ukraine never be allowed to join NATO and that NATO withdraw from Eastern European countries.

Instead, NATO and the U.S. are hoping to make progress in other areas, arms control and communication and transparency over military maneuvers.

The U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said that they don't know what Russia will do next and that maybe the Russians themselves don't even know. An indication that this really comes down to the decisions of one man, President Vladimir Putin of Russia.

Alex Marquardt, CNN, Brussels.



NEWTON: The World Health Organization has a warning, do not take the Omicron variant lightly. The WHO chief says while Omicron causes less severe disease than Delta, it remains nonetheless a dangerous virus especially for the unvaccinated. He says that new global COVID-19 cases are rising at record rates. Take a listen.


DR. TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS, DIRECTOR GENERAL, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: Last week, more than 15 million new cases of COVID-19 were reported to WHO from around the world. By far the most cases reported in a single week. And we know this is an underestimate.

This huge spike in infections is being driven by the Omicron variant, which is rapidly replacing Delta in almost all countries. (END VIDEO CLIP)

NEWTON: Now, Europe as we've been reporting here is dealing with a massive surge in the virus. Spain reported its highest ever COVID-19 infection rate amid the Omicron wave following a surge in cases in France, Italy and Germany earlier this week.

Germany's Chancellor suggested the country should make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for all adults, but his words were met by protest signs and opposition lawmakers.

And in Bulgaria, anti-vaccine protesters tried to storm Parliament during a massive rally against coronavirus restrictions and in France, a teachers union will go on strike to protest insufficient COVID-19 protocols in schools.

CNN's Melissa Bell has that for us.


MELISSA BELL, CNN PARIS CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Here in France, another day of protest on Thursday against government COVID measures this time from teaching staff and in particular, primary and kindergarten teachers.

The Union say that 75 percent of teachers will be on strike, 50 percent of schools will be closed as a result. We expect people on the streets of French cities once again, this time protesting against changes that have been made to try and keep children in school.

We've heard from the French Prime Minister speaking in front of the French Parliament this Wednesday and saying that the alternative was to close down schools and the economy, which was just not an option.

So, more protests even as the Omicron variant continues to make its way across Europe. The World Health Organization warning earlier this week that it is 50 percent of Europeans that could be infected within the next next six to eight weeks.

Here in France, we've seen record figures achieved on Tuesday, nearly 370,000 new cases in a single day. On Wednesday, just over 360,000. Germany also recording its highest number of new cases in a single 24- hour period as that new variant sweeps across the continent.

With European governments trying one after the other to find measures that will allow societies to live with a variant that is more contagious than any we've seen before. Melissa Bell, CNN, Paris.


NEWTON: So, COVID outbreaks are also spreading in China just weeks ahead of course of those Winter Olympics in Beijing. Now, the outbreaks include the city of Tianjin about 130 kilometers away where China saw its first community spread of the Omicron variant.

Now, officials are moving to try and get the outbreaks under control. Kristie Lu Stout joins us from Hong Kong. And Kristie, we have seen

this reaction before right to those outbreaks. This one happening though, so close to Beijing this time.

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Yes, that's right and involving the Omicron variant as well, just weeks before the Beijing Winter Olympic Games cases of this highly infectious variant on the rise in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin.

And in zero COVID China, that means 2.1 million people in Tianjin now under lockdown, it means schools are suspended there. It means a second round of testing for all 14 million residents of Tianjin.

I should also add that Tianjin is just 30 minutes away by high speed rail from Beijing, the Olympic host city.

Now, meanwhile, hundreds of miles away in Anyang city, this is in central Hunan province. The entire city there under lockdown after two Omicron cases were detected, those two cases linked to the ongoing outbreak of Omicron in Tianjin as a result of 5-1/2 million people in Anyang city are now under lockdown, factories are closed, businesses are closed, 4,000 students and staffers, they have been escorted to go to government run quarantine centers.

The Omicron variant has also just been detected in the North Eastern Chinese city of Dalian, those two cases there also linked to the Tianjin outbreak.

China does not live with COVID. China pursues an aggressive zero COVID, zero tolerance approach to pandemic control that involves mass testing, tracing, snap lockdown, strict border controls, travel controls, and experts continue to point out that the people in China remain vulnerable because of the limitations of zero COVID. And also, the limitations of China's homegrown vaccines.


STOUT: In fact, according to one investigation in Tianjin have found that of 80 people infected with the Omicron variant, 76 had already been fully vaccinated with Chinese made vaccines, Paula.

NEWTON: Yes, Kristie, we will get to more reporting in the coming days about those Beijing Olympics but it is to note those games will go on even amid these issues with Omicron.

Kristie, thank you so much.

And meantime, in Quebec, Canada, it is providing some evidence that vaccine mandates do work, at least that's in the opinion of the government. One day after the province announced it would impose fines on the unvaccinated, the health minister says there's been a spike in first time appointments for vaccinations. The amount of that future fine is unclear, but it would apply to those with -- not apply, pardon me, to those with medical exemptions.

Nearly 90 percent of eligible Quebeckers have had at least one dose of a COVID vaccine but the government says the unvaccinated remain a huge burden on the province's public health care system.

OK, still ahead here for us, Afghanistan is said to be on the brink of economic collapse with millions facing starvation. We'll speak with humanitarian aid representative about the desperate situation.


NEWTON: So, to bring you up to date on the story we're following, the draw for the Australian Open is now underway after about a 90-minute delay. Now, no reason was given for the surprise postponement but of course, the build up to this tournament continues to be overshadowed by the visa saga surrounding world number one Novak Djokovic now anytime.

Now, Australia's Immigration Minister could decide whether Djokovic will be allowed to stay in the country and compete in the tournament.

Earlier, the Serbian tennis star was forced to admit he did an interview and photoshoot last month knowing he had COVID when the journalist and the photographer did not.

Serbia's president told the local radio station, infected people should not be going out in public, but added he was proud to assist Djokovic with the visa and vaccination dispute.


ALEKSANDAR VUCIC, SERBIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We've done our job. Our job is to help the citizens of Serbia. I am proud that we were able to help with the arrangements on a professional level. Novak is the greatest athlete in the history of Serbia.


NEWTON: We will bring you more updates on that story as we continue to follow it out of Melbourne. But in the meantime, we're going to bring you to Afghanistan where the Taliban are asking for a greater role in deciding how billions of dollars in foreign aid would be distributed across Afghanistan.


Now, they've proposed what they're saying is a joint committee of Taliban officials and international representatives to coordinate distribution, but it's something the U.N. and foreign aid governments would all have to support, as well.

Humanitarian groups warn Afghanistan's economy and medical systems could soon collapse, with millions of people face starvation. The International Rescue Committee ranks Afghanistan No. 1 on its annual watch list of countries whose humanitarian crises are only getting worse.

Vicki Aken is the Afghanistan country director with the IRC, and she joins me now from Kabul. And it is good to see you to give us an update on this. I will get to the distribution of aid and the need in a moment, but first, if you can just give us, you know, a look into the unfolding crisis there, especially among vulnerable children.

You know, what is the IOC seeing on the grounds -- on the ground in terms of the threat of acute malnutrition among children?


What we're seeing is a devastating increase in malnutrition amongst children. I've been in Afghanistan almost five years now, and I've never seen so many children that are malnourished. The clinics are full of them. In some of our provinces, we're seeing a 30-fold increase.

UNICEF has warned that up to one million children could potentially die from malnutrition if something isn't done soon.

NEWTON: Yes. And a reminder: it's winter in Afghanistan, and all those respiratory diseases that so many parents around the world deal with, parents in Afghanistan are going through the exact same thing right now and unable to get medical help.

How did this unravel so quickly? You know, you said a 30-fold increase in some cases?

AKEN: Yes. So it hasn't -- prior to August, when the Taliban took over, Afghanistan was already facing several crises, so they're in the midst of a severe drought.

We had COVID, which had a devastating impact on the economy, and then we had the conflict. And then, when the Taliban took over, all of the foreign aid to the government was cut off.

Now, foreign aid was 40 percent of GDP and covered about 70 to 75 percent of basic services, which meant that clinics across the country were closed down. People didn't have access to food. It's estimated that only 2 percent of the people in the country have access to enough food on a daily basis.

NEWTON: And now we get to the issue of the Taliban and the fact that they are in charge, now. You know, what have you seen, again, on the ground in terms of how they have been trying to perhaps distribute any aid? And do you believe they should get a say in who gets that aid and where it's distributed?

AKEN: We believe that, as long as aid is distributed according to humanitarian principles, to the people that are most in need, then we should coordinate with whoever the local authorities are.

But again, it has to be according to those humanitarian principles. And today the de facto authorities have allowed us to distribute aid in this manner. And that includes the use of female humanitarian staff, without which we can't reach half of the population.

NEWTON: I suppose that comes as some comfort to your work on the ground, but at this point, what do you think international governments, whether it's the United States, Europe, the U.K., what should we be doing with their aid input there? And do you think that they should rely on the Taliban in terms of cooperating?

AKEN: Humanitarian aid always goes directly to the humanitarian agency, so through the U.N., through international NGOs. And that should continue first and foremost. The money for the lifesaving activities.

There are ways in which we can support the basic services in Afghanistan without having to go directly through the government. So, for example, finding a way to directly pay civil servants like teachers.

If we are interested in girls continuing to be able to have an education in Afghanistan, then we have to enable an environment where teachers can be paid and can continue operating in schools. And there are ways that that can be done that is sanctions-compliant.

NEWTON: OK, we'll leave it there for now, but we'll continue to check in with you, especially given the unique insight you have of actually being there in country.

Vicki Aken for the IRC, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

AKEN: Thank you, Paula.

NEWTON: Now, still to come here on CNN, more on the latest twist in the Novak Djokovic saga. The Australian Open draw was unexpectedly delayed but has now gotten underway. We'll have the details for you right after the break.



NEWTON: OK, so the draw for the Australian Open is now finally underway after an unexpected delay that has yet to be explained. Now, this development is coinciding, of course, with the Novak Djokovic saga.

Now the world is waiting to hear whether the tennis world No. 1, who is unvaccinated against COVID-19, will be allowed to stay in Australia and take part in the tournament.

Justin Quill -- Justin Quill is a partner with the major Australian law firm, Thompson Geer. He is with us from Melbourne right now.

And I really appreciate you joining us. And, you know, there's an interesting legal perspective on this that I think many people are looking at right now.

Given that the Australian authorities already lost in court once, right, in this case, what is your opinion? Do you think they are a bit reluctant to try and deport him, given he could appeal? And I guess if he seeks due process, it could mean he remains in the country and plays tennis until that appeal is heard, right?

JUSTIN QUILL, PARTNER, THOMPSON GEAR: Yes, absolutely. The stakes are high for the federal government, from an embarrassment point of view. It's an election year here in Australia. And they've already suffered a big embarrassment on Monday when they had to dramatically capitulate in the federal court.

And they just can't afford, from a popularity point of view, to have that happen again. So I think that's part of the delay that's been happening over the past few days, whether they've been trying to work out firstly, is this a politically smart remove, and secondly, how do we do it in a way where we make sure that the -- the decision is bulletproof, and it doesn't get appealed and overturned again.

NEWTON: But even delay would work here, right? I mean, if he has due process, it means he could appeal and he could stay in country while he appeals. Right?

QUILL Yes. So that's absolutely right. What he will do is go before the judge and say, Look, I have an arguable case here. I'm going to need more than a day or two to properly argue that before your honor, to properly hear that case and make a decision.

And in the meantime, I need an interim or temporary injunction. So that, I think, is probably the more likely scenario. The problem he has with that is you have to show that you have an arguable case.

You can't just appeal because you want to appeal. You've got to show that there are decent grounds. There's got to be a decent case for bringing to court.

And that -- that is why the federal government is going slowly with this and making sure that they are about as bulletproof as they can be if they're going to make this decision.

And we still, of course, don't know whether they're going to make that decision. There might not be able to actually pull the trigger a and do it, and that will be the reason why they don't do it, is because they might think this isn't absolutely bulletproof.


NEWTON: Yes, and that's an interesting point, too. I want to point out the prime minister, you know, was just speaking, didn't give any indication of when there would be, you know, a decision, just saying he'd refer it to his immigration minister.

And yet you're saying that they could just abstain from making a decision at all.

QUILL: Well, look, as things currently stand, Novak Djokovic is here in the country. He's at Melbourne Park, training every day. He has a visa.

So at the moment, as things stand, the federal government don't need to make any decision. They can just allow -- allow things to go on and he to play the Australian Open and then fly out, either as the champion or -- or not, and -- and they don't need to make a decision. If they want to make a decision, they've got to do -- do it at some

point. Now, in theory, that -- they could wait until halfway through the tournament. But they're just not going to do that.

That from a legal perspective, from a popularity standpoint, would be a disaster for them. So they know they have to do it before the Australian Open starts or, realistically, politically, not at all.

But from a legal perspective, in theory, they can do it anytime they want.

NEWTON: OK. Understood. And I will say the draw happened. Novak Djokovic, as we understand, is the No. 1 seed. So the Australian Open is kind of underway with him right now.

I have to ask you, though, in terms of public opinion, how difficult is this decision going to be? Because this hasn't gone well for the government so far. And Australians must be completely fed up with the circus right now.

QUILL: Yes. Absolutely. Let me say if you think about that, firstly, the fact that the juror has gone ahead suggests to me that maybe they're not going to make this decision, because surely, Tennis Australia must have had some high-level discussions with the government.

Now, that's speculation for me, but one would have hoped so. Now secondly, when you talk about the politics of it all, I will say this. Australians are embarrassed. I'm embarrassed as an Australian. Melburnians in particular. We consider ourselves the sporting capital of not just Australia but the world.

And we're embarrassed about this fiasco, the circus that's gone on. And it's been inevitable (ph) now. So that's the next thing.

But having said that, we're a highly vaccinated country. And I think it's about 90, 93 percent over 12 years of age fully vaccinated.

The fact that Novak Djokovic got the exemption in the first place, or arguably got an exemption in the first place, really riled up Australians.

As of this morning, the biggest newspaper in the country, "The Melbourne Herald-Sun," had an online poll. And with tens of thousands of people responding to it, I checked the numbers this morning, 82 percent in favor of the government canceling his visa and trying to deport him again.

That's a pretty high approval rating for this decision. That's why the government want to do it. They know it's popular, but there's legal impediments for them to do it. So we are fed up with it, but also it's part of Australians who, we don't -- we don't like him turning up not vaccinated.

NEWTON: Right. Well, I think in the last few minutes, you've certainly given us some insight into the hard decision ahead. And as you say, how much Australians just want this saga to be over sooner rather than later.

Justin Quill, thank you so much as we continue to watch the breaking news from Melbourne.

I'm Paula Newton. I will be back in 15 minutes with more NEWSROOM, but in the meantime, WORLD SPORT is next.






NEWTON: Hello, everyone. And welcome to our viewers, joining us from all around the world. I'm Paula Newton. Coming up right here on CNN NEWSROOM, even more drama swirling around Novak Djokovic.