72 tennis players have been forced to quarantine ahead of the Australian Open after four passengers tested positive for COVID-19 upon landing in the country.
Four coronavirus cases have now been detected from three charter flights carrying tennis players and officials to Melbourne for the Australian Open, forcing more than 47 players into strict hotel quarantine.
Health authorities confirmed there’d been three positive tests for COVID-19 returned on Saturday (16th January) and another on Sunday (17th January). None of the cases have so far involved any players.
All four cases had tested negative before boarding their flights to Australia.
The exposure means players from the most recent arrival of the affected Qatar Airways flight from Doha are in strict 14-day quarantine. Health authorities and tournament organisers confirmed that they join 47 players from the previously infected Los Angeles and Abu Dhabi flights unable to leave their hotel rooms or practice. The Australian Open start on February 8.
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.
French player Alexandre Müller shared an email from Tennis Australia officials on Sunday night which revealed someone on-board the flight had returned a positive COVID-19 test result.
“Unfortunately we have some bad news for you,” the alert Müller shared on Twitter said.
“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 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.
"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 tournament director Craig Tiley issued a statement saying organisers “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.”
Covid quarantine commissioner Emma Cassar earlier on Sunday confirmed a member of a broadcast team on an Australian Open charter flight from Los Angeles to Melbourne.
A flight attendant and a tennis coach who were on the same flight are also infected with the virus, as well as Sylvain Bruneau, the coach of Canadian tennis star Bianca Andreescu, who entered Australia from Abu Dhabi.
There are 62 close contacts on the LA to Melbourne flight and 63 from the Abu Dhabi flight who will spend 14 days in hotel quarantine.
“We have delayed training (on Sunday) because a number of test results are not in yet. I can confirm that all player and training partner test results are in, but now we are waiting on the rest of the cohorts,” Dr Cassar said.
“We're working with Tennis Australia to make sure we can get back on track tomorrow."
In another blow for the tournament's hotel quarantine program, the Department of Justice and Community Safety Victoria issued a warning to Tennis Australia about players trying to leave their room.
TA boss Craig Tiley said players will be fined and placed in hard quarantine if they continue.
Ms Cassar said there was “zero tolerance” and Victoria Police have been contacted about the breaches.
'When people come out of their rooms it is not just about, or that they're wrong, it is placing them and our staff and the community at risk.”
“I can give you two examples, a player who opened his door to try and have a conversation with his training mate down the hallway. Again, he's got a phone, you can pick up the phone and use the telephone as opposed to putting you and others at risk.
“The other was another gentleman who shouted some Uber Easts to some other people on the floor and was praising his great efforts and opened his door to do so.
Dr Cassar said despite the incidents being ‘low-level,' the players' behaviour is 'dangerous' and won't be tolerated.
Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, three-time grand slam winner Angelique Kerber and 2019 US Open title holder Bianca Andreescu are among the players already in hotel quarantine.
An aircrew member and a non-playing participant tested positive following their arrival on the flight from Los Angeles the Friday morning, initially leaving Azarenka among 24 players having to quarantine.
But the situation quickly escalated, with Tennis Australia on the Saturday evening confirming another positive COVID test returned from a passenger on a charter flight into Melbourne from Abu Dhabi.
Tennis Australia said no players and support people will be able to leave quarantine to attend training.
“Players are being supported to access equipment for their hotel rooms to help them maintain their fitness during this time,” it said.
Players were originally given an exemption to leave their quarantine hotel to train for up to five hours a day, however an email from Tennis Australia confirmed all who were aboard the flights would now be in hard lockdown.