MELBOURNE — Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley has confirmed the year’s first Grand Slam will go ahead from Feb. 8 despite anger from players forced into hard quarantine in Melbourne because of 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 — the fifth overall — was reported late Sunday in Australia from the third flight, which had landed a day earlier and had ferried 58 passengers from Doha, Qatar, 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 [practice],” the Australian Open said in a statement here.
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.
“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.”
Craig Tiley, Australian Open tournament director
Tiley said the tournament would start as scheduled but that 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.”
Tickets are on sale for the tournament, although the crowd capacity at Melbourne Park will be limited.
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.
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.
Cirstea posted on Twitter: “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.”
But government officials have rejected those claims.
“There’s no other way you can consider this. If you’re on a plane 16-24 hours, with air that circulates throughout the plane, you are a close contact,” Victoria state’s COVID-19 quarantine commissioner Emma Cassar said. “This was made very clear and nothing has changed.”
Players have countered that they are not bothered by the quarantine, but that they are expected to be in top form soon after their quarantine ends.
“We are not complaining to be in Quarantine,” Bencic tweeted. “We are complaining because of unequal practice/playing conditions before quite important tournaments.”
Australia’s international borders are basically closed to travelers, although there are exemptions in special circumstances and all arrivals must do mandatory quarantine. Each of Australia’s states and territories has its own border and travel restrictions, and those can change on very short notice.
Cassar told a news conference Sunday that some people were “testing” or challenging the quarantine procedures, but there had been no attempts to escape quarantine.
Cassar, who is also in charge of the state’s prisons, said there’ll be “zero tolerance for that behavior.” She also said there’d be no change in the regular quarantine regulations for the playing group.
“This is designed to make people safe,” Cassar said. “We make no apologies for that.”
Information from Reuters and The Associated Press was used in this report.