MELBOURNE, Australia – Tennis fans will not be able to participate in the Australian Open beginning at 11:59 pm local time on Friday (7:59 am ET) as the state of Victoria prepares for a five-day lockdown in between of a growing cluster of COVID-19 in the city’s outer suburbs.
On Friday morning, with the state’s active case count at 19, the Victorian cabinet met and decided that the safest course of action was to return to Stage 4 restrictions and place the state back on lockdown, for a minimum of five days, which means that fans will not be able to attend the Australian Open until at least the quarterfinal stage in Week 2.
“The UK strain is moving at a speed that has not been seen anywhere in our country, and this is the advice that our health experts have given me,” Victoria’s Prime Minister Daniel Andrews said during a press conference on Friday. “As for how tennis will perform, I’ll let you guys talk, [but] Sporting events will function as a workplace but not as entertainment because there will be no crowds. “
“I understand that many people will be worried and anxious, but I am sure that if we stick together, this short and sharp circuit breaker will be effective. I want to be here next Wednesday to announce that these restrictions are going to be lifted.”
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said event organizers planned the potential to play in a bubble environment.
“The game will continue, the players will compete in a bubble not unlike what they have been doing for the past year,” Tiley said. “Those who will be allowed on the site will be the players and direct support teams, as well as the staff members who cannot do their work from home … The essentials for the realization of the event will be on the site.
The outbreak in the state began at the Holiday Inn at Melbourne Airport last week and has now risen to 13 cases, five of which were acquired locally on Thursday. All cases in the hotel are presumed to be the UK strain of the coronavirus, which is proving to be highly contagious and harder to contain than the original variant.
The Stage 4 restrictions mean that there are only four reasons for Victorians to leave their homes. They must give or receive medical care; buy essential goods or services; to work or study (if you cannot from home); and exercising for up to two hours a day. Fundamentally, professional athletes have been defined as “essential athletes”, which means that the Australian Open and other professional sports leagues and events can continue.
The statewide panic was sparked on Thursday when Brunetti Cafe at Melbourne Airport Terminal 4 was added to the list of Level 1 exposure sites after a newly confirmed positive case of the virus was present at the location. for more than eight hours on Tuesday afternoon.
Melbourne Airport confirmed 29 domestic flights arrived and departed from the terminal during the period, before a deep cleaning of the area took place overnight.
The ban announcement is a significant blow to Tennis Australia, which has already faced backlash over its “hard quarantine” of international player arrivals last month, as well as having to contend with a daily attendance limit of 30,000 during the first week.
Victorian residents are familiar with life on the go. Between July and October of last year, the state was put under a strict lockdown as it battled its second wave of COVID-19. The state’s active cases peaked on August 7 at 6,769, but the number fell below triple on October 17, allowing the Australian Open to take place, albeit a month later than originally scheduled.
Last September’s US Open in New York was played behind closed doors, while the following month’s French Open allowed just 1,000 viewers a day.