Four coronavirus cases have been detected from charter flights carrying tennis players, coaches and officials to Melbourne for the Australian Open, forcing 47 players into strict hotel quarantine.
Health authorities confirmed there’d been three positive tests for Covid-19 returned on Saturday and another on Sunday. None of the cases have so far involved players.
However, the players from the two affected flights — arriving from Los Angeles and Abu Dhabi — were in a strict 14-day quarantine, unable to leave their hotel rooms or practice, health authorities and tournament organizers said Saturday. The Australian Open starts on Feb. 8.
Health authorities initially said two positive Covid-19 cases — a coach and a member of the air crew — emerged from a charter flight from Los Angeles and the other positive test was a coach on the flight from Abu Dhabi. On Sunday, Victoria state’s Covid-19 quarantine commissioner Emma Cassar told a news conference another positive test, from a member of a television broadcast team, had been returned off Los Angeles flight.
Wrong surface but that doesn‘t matter for us💪🏽 pic.twitter.com/R8FsdyGafy
— Belinda Bencic (@BelindaBencic) January 17, 2021
All four cases had tested negative before boarding their flights to Australia.
The coach of Canadian star Bianca Andreescu said he has tested positive after arriving from Abu Dhabi. Sylvain Bruneau said the “rest of my team is negative.”
Tennis Australia confirmed there were 24 players on the flight from Los Angeles and 23 on the flight from Abu Dhabi. Those were among 17 charter flights from seven international destinations bringing up to 1,200 players, coaches, staff and officials into Australia for the tournament.
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley issued a statement Saturday saying organizers “are communicating with everyone on this flight, and particularly the playing group whose conditions have now changed, to ensure their needs are being catered to as much as possible, and that they are fully appraised of the situation.”
On Sunday, Tiley told Australia’s Nine Network that organizers and players were forewarned there’d be a “significant risk” of restrictions being imposed on players if there were positive for Covid-19.
“We did make it very clear in the beginning,” Tiley said. “Now we have to manage an environment over the next 14 days for those who won’t be able to practice.”
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Kei Nishikori, the 2014 U.S. Open runner-up, and two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka were among a group of players who arrived on the flight from Los Angeles.
British player Heather Watson said on Twitter that she and others who arrived from Abu Dhabi “are NOT allowed out (of) our rooms.” She posted the notification that she and others who were on the flight received informing them of the quarantine.
“The Chief Health Officer 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,” said the notification, which Watson posted.
Being unable to leave their room would mean the only workouts they’d be able to have would be on an exercise equipment left in the rooms of all of the players.
Other players will be allowed to train under strict conditions and with supervision for up to five hours a day, although those practice sessions in Melbourne had been delayed while health authorities waited to receive all the coronavirus tests.
Several players in quarantine, including Sorana Cirstea of Romania, Belinda Bencic of Switzerland and Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan complained in social media posts that the rules seemed to have changed between what they saw before traveling to Australia and what was being imposed in Melbourne.
I agree…if they would have told us this rule before i would not play Australia…I would have stayed home. They told us we would fly at 20% capacity, in sections and we would be a close contact ONLY if my team or cohort tests positive . https://t.co/kF58HEijqq
— Sorana Cirstea (@sorana_cirstea) January 16, 2021
Tiley said there were no plans to delay the Australian Open any further — it’s already starting three weeks later than usual.
Australia’s international borders are basically closed to travelers, although there are exemptions in special circumstances.
Australia has done a relatively good job of containing the coronavirus, with 909 deaths nationally.