Australian Open chaos escalates with 47 players forced into hard lockdown

Chaos surrounding the Australian Open has escalated, with 47 players to be confined to hotel quarantine rooms for two weeks after another positive test on an incoming flight.

A single infection was confirmed on a second charter flight that jetted into Melbourne from Abu Dhabi carrying players and officials who must now undergo a strict quarantine for a fortnight.

There have so far been three positive coronavirus tests from two separate flights, forcing a total of 128 passengers into two weeks isolation.

Two-time champion Victoria Azarenka, three-time grand slam winner Angelique Kerber and 2019 US Open victor Bianca Andreescu are among the players affected.

Players will be unable to train for the two weeks leading up to the tournament but will have to maintain their fitness from their hotel rooms.

But frustration has already grown among players with several taking to social media to vent their frustration and resentment.

“Weeks and weeks of practice and hard work going to waste for one person positive to Covid in a 3/4 empty plane. Sorry but this is insane,” tweeted France’s Alize Cornet.

Belgium’s Kirsten Flipkens criticised the decision to quarantine all the players on the flight, calling it “Russian roulette”.

The three positive cases were not among players but include an aircrew member and a non-playing participant who tested positive on a flight from Los Angeles on Friday morning, initially leaving Azarenka among 24 players having to quarantine.

Tennis Australia announced the third case on Saturday evening, confirming another positive COVID test returned from a passenger the flight from Abu Dhabi.

TA said that flight included 23 players, meaning 47 players will now be out of action for at least a fortnight and until they are medically cleared.

“Any players and support people will not be able to leave quarantine to attend training,” the Victorian government’s COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria (CQV) body confirmed.

“Players are being supported to access equipment for their hotel rooms to help them maintain their fitness during this time.”

Players were originally given an exemption to leave their quarantine hotel to train for up to five hours a day, however an email from TA confirmed all who were aboard the flights would now be in hard lockdown.

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley issued a statement about the Los Angeles flight after an email sent to players had initially circulated about the incident.

“We 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,” Tiley said.

TA later confirmed details of a second flight from Abu Dhabi with 64 people, 23 of whom were players.

“All passengers from the flight are already in quarantine hotels and the positive case, who is not a player and had tested negative before the flight, has been transferred to a health hotel,” the statement read.

As well as Azarenka who won the Australian title in 2012 and ’13, American Sloane Stephens and Japanese star Kei Nishikori were also on the Los Angeles flight, while Svetlana Kuznetsova, Maria Sakkari, Ons Jabeur and Belinda Bencic where among others to come from Abu Dhabi.

Nishikori had COVID back in August.

American Tennys Sandgren, who was cleared to fly when his recent positive test was deemed to be viral shedding, was also believed to be on board the Los Angeles flight. But he is not linked to the new positives.

Two months ago, when pushing for relaxed border restrictions in Australia and a special player bubble, Tiley said players simply would not agree to a fortnight in isolation without being able to train.

“If a player has to quarantine and be stuck in a hotel for two weeks just before their season, that won’t happen,” Tiley told AAP in mid-October.

“You can’t ask players to quarantine for two weeks and then step out and be ready to play a grand slam.”

-with AAP

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