Australian Open rocked by third flight with COVID-positive case

·Sports Editor
·4-min read
A Qatar Airways flight, pictured here arriving in Australia.
A Qatar Airways flight to Australia has brought in a fifth case of COVID-19. (Photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

A total of 72 players are now in hard lockdown after a third chartered flight to the Australian Open returned a positive COVID-19 case.

A further 25 Australian Open players were forced into quarantine on arrival in the country on Sunday ahead of the season’s first tennis major.

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A fifth person, who had flown into Melbourne on an Australian Open charter flight from Doha, tested positive on Sunday night after arriving on Saturday.

It meant three Australian Open charter flights have now brought in passengers who later tested positive, following infections on planes from Los Angeles and Abu Dhabi.

The players will now be confined to their hotel rooms for the next 14 days.

French player Alexandre Muller first revealed the news of the third COVID-positive plane on Sunday night, posting an email he’d received from Tennis Australia officials on Twitter.

“Unfortunately we have some bad news for you. We have just been informed by the health authorities that a person on your flight ... has returned a positive PCR test on arrival in Melbourne,” the email said.

“The Chief Health Officer (Brett Sutton) has reviewed the flight and has determined that everyone on board needs to isolate and will be confined to their rooms for the 14 day quarantine period.

“We know this has a major impact on your preparations for the AO and the rest of the Aussie summer. We are here to do everything we can to mitigate this impact.”

Australian Open dates won’t be changed

All international players were originally given an exemption to train for up to five hours a day but the test results have forced the three affected flights into stricter quarantine under Victorian government orders, prompting complaints of unfair advantage for the others.

The coach of 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu, Sylvain Bruneau, confirmed he was one of the four cases.

Training has been put on hold for all quarantined players pending final test results, although all players and their training partners have been cleared of COVID-19.

COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria Commissioner Emma Cassar said that police presence had been increased at the Open hotels and added that there had been cases of “challenging behaviour” from some confined players and support staff.

She cited two cases when they opened their doors to have a conversation or shout down the hallway.

One of the first groups of tennis players, pictured here arriving at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Melbourne.
One of the first groups of tennis players arrives at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Melbourne. (Credit Image: Sydney Low/CSM/Sipa USA)

“There is zero tolerance for breaches,” she said.

“It's low level but dangerous acts that we just can't tolerate.”

Cassar warned they could be fined up to $20,000 or repeat offenders transferred to the complex care hotel where they have a police officer stationed outside their door.

Some players in hard lockdown are calling for the February 8 Australian Open start date to be pushed back to ensure they have adequate time to prepare.

But Tiley ruled out another date change.

“We are planning on February the eighth ... and our intention is to continue with those dates,” Tiley told Nine Network's Today Show.

He said they would consider adjusting the schedule for the lead-in ATP and WTA tournaments which are due to start in Melbourne on January 31 and February 1.

Australian Open Tournament Director Craig Tiley, pictured here speaking to the media in Melbourne.
Australian Open Tournament Director Craig Tiley speaks to the media in Melbourne. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

Players have claimed they were told that only those in close contact with a positive case would have to go into hard quarantine, and not all passengers on the flight.

Tiley said players were warned it was one scenario but that the tournament was at the mercy of the Victorian government.

“The determination of who was and who wasn't a close contact was going to be entirely up to the health department, and they're doing what they is necessary in order to keep our community safe,” he said.

“We never knew what the situation or decision would be coming in and now we have to manage an environment over the next 14 days.”

Tiley said the recent threat of the UK strain of the virus had changed the situation but insisted players knew there was a risk of isolation.

The players are getting little sympathy from many Australians, with thousands of compatriots unable to travel home while many Victorians are currently locked out of the state.

The players will pocket a minimum $100,000 if they take part on the Australian Open main draw.

with AAP

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