Australian Open to go ahead despite Covid quarantines

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MELBOURNE: Austra­lian Open tournament director Craig Tiley has confirmed the year’s first Grand Slam will go ahead from February 8 despite anger from players forced into hard quarantine in Melbourne due to positive Covid-19 cases on their charter planes.

Seventy-two players and their entourages have to isolate for two weeks in their hotel rooms in Melbourne and are no longer able to leave them to train after infections were reported on three flights carrying them to Melbourne.

A positive case was reported late on Sunday from the third flight which landed a day earlier and had ferried 58 passengers from Doha, where the Grand Slam’s qualifiers were held.

Twenty-five players were on board but the passenger, who tested negative before the flight, is not a player.

“The 25 players on the flight will not be able to leave their hotel room for 14 days and until they are medically cleared. They will not be eligible for practise,” the Australian Open said in a statement.

Other players who arrived in different planes are also undertaking a mandatory 14-day quarantine but are permitted to leave their hotels for five hours a day to train, raising questions about the integrity of the Grand Slam.

Tiley said the tournament would start as scheduled but governing body Tennis Australia would look at altering the lead-up tournaments to help affected players.

“We are reviewing the schedule leading in to see what we can do to assist these players,” Tiley told the Nine Network on Sunday. “The Australian Open is going ahead and we will continue to do the best we possibly can do to ensure those players have the best opportunity.”

Earlier, quarantine authorities said they had recorded a fourth Covid-19 infection among the passengers on the two charter flights carrying players to Melbourne.

A broadcaster on the flight from Los Angeles had tested positive, adding to an aircrew member and a tennis coach on the same plane who were reported on Saturday.

The other case was Sylvain Bruneau, the coach of Canadian Bianca Andreescu, the 2019 US Open champion. Bruneau was a passenger on a charter flight carrying 23 players from Abu Dhabi.

Organisers quashed rumours about a positive case on one of the two flights to Adelaide carrying some of the game’s biggest names.

While most players touched down in Melbourne, superstars including Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka instead flew into the South Australian city.

Some players have expressed anger at being classified as close contacts merely for being on board those flights with people who later tested positive and, therefore, forced into a harsher quarantine than the broader group of players who’ll be allowed out of their rooms to practice for up to five hours per day.

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.

Covid-19 Quarantine Victoria boss Emma Cassar said authorities had provided consistent advice.

“The rules for close contacts haven’t changed,” she told reporters in Melbourne on Sunday. “The program is set up to keep people safe.”