Australian Open going ahead as planned despite COVID-19 chaos
MELBOURNE－Australian Open chief Craig Tiley insisted Sunday the Grand Slam will begin as scheduled next month, while admitting it was "not a great situation" for the 47 players who have been confined to their hotel rooms.
The tournament was thrown into disarray on Saturday when three people tested positive for COVID-19 on two of the 17 charter flights bringing players and their entourages to Melbourne and Adelaide.
A fourth person, a member of a broadcast team on one of the same flights, from Los Angeles, tested positive Sunday.
None were players, although one was Sylvain Bruneau, coach of Canada's 2019 US Open winner Bianca Andreescu. Another was also a coach, although was not identified.
Everyone on board was considered to be close contacts and ordered not to leave their hotel rooms for 14 days.
British player Heather Watson said on Twitter that she and others who arrived from Abu Dhabi "are NOT allowed out (of) our rooms".She also posted the notification that those 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," read the notification.
"We are aware of the major impact this has on your preparation for the Australian summer," it continued, pledging "to do everything we can to mitigate this impact."
It means 47 players will not be allowed out to train for five hours a day as previously agreed in the build-up to the opening Grand Slam of the year, which is due to start on Feb 8.
The likes of Victoria Azarenka, Sloane Stephens, Kei Nishikori and Angelique Kerber are believed to be among those affected.
"We always knew there would be significant risk with this pandemic, you can never tell," Tiley told Channel Nine television.
"But the Australian Open is going ahead and we will continue to do the best we possibly can to ensure those players that have what is not a great situation, one that is somewhat acceptable."
Organizers quashed rumors 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 Adelaide－around 650 kilometers away.
Risks 'made clear'
Several players, including Sorana Cirstea and Belinda Bencic, complained that they were not told about a hard lockdown if one person tested positive.
"If they would have told us this rule before I would not play Australia," tweeted Romania's Cirstea, and Kazakhstan's Yulia Putintseva agreed: "I would think twice before coming here," she said.
Tiley admitted it was hard, but said the players were made aware of the risks.
"We did make it very clear at the beginning, that's why we had the player groups in cohorts, there was always a risk that someone would be positive and have to go into 14 days of isolation," he said.
"There was a risk on the plane that you would be a close contact, there was a risk that everyone could be a close contact."
Some players have already breached the strict lockdown rules by opening their doors.
Victoria state COVID-19 quarantine commissioner Emma Cassar warned they faced fines of up to $15,300 and persistent offenders risked being sent to another hotel with a police officer stationed outside their door.
She cited one player "who opened his door to try and have a conversation with his training mate down the hallway", while another bought takeaway food for friends on the same floor "and was praising his great efforts and opened his door to do so".
"It is really low-level but really dangerous acts which we just can't tolerate," Cassar said.
Tiley said he was doing what he could to ensure affected players had exercise equipment in their rooms, but acknowledged they would struggle to be ready for a week of lead-in tournaments.
The Australian Open had already been hit by the withdrawal of injured Roger Federer, while world No 16 Madison Keys and three-time major winner Andy Murray both tested positive for the virus before departure so did not board their flights to Australia.