News Coronavirus Australian Open hit by new coronavirus infections, quarantine breaches
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Australian Open hit by new coronavirus infections, quarantine breaches

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One shared tips on how to use a turned-up mattress for rally practice. Another complained about being served rice pudding and mango for breakfast (“#really”, the outraged tennis reporter posted).

Then there was the video of an unwelcome rodent.

But that mouse wasn’t the only one crossing the floor in hotel quarantine.

It emerged on Sunday that while furious Australian Open players and members of the event entourage were documenting their complaints inside mandatory quarantine, the real concern was what was happening off-camera as more coronavirus cases came to light. More on that later.

Positive case on another plane

On Sunday, COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria’s Emma Cassar revealed a broadcaster on a charter flight from Los Angeles was the fourth person connected to the grand slam tournament to test positive to the virus.

By late that night, it emerged that dozens more players would be locked down in a hotel after another case emerged.

Open organisers said the positive case was not a player. The person had tested negative before boarding the flight from Doha to Melbourne, they said.

All 58 passengers, including 25 players, were quarantined.

French player Alexandre Muller tweeted a screen shot of an email about the rules for passengers who had been on flight QR7485 before sharing videos of him working out with a hotel room chair.

“Unfortunately we have some bad news for you,” the email read.

“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.”

Stan Wawrinka arrives to quarantine at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Melbourne. Photo: Sipa USA

Other positive coronavirus tests were detected on two separate flights – one from Los Angeles and the other from Abu Dhabi – forcing 128 passengers into isolation.

The latest quarantine ruling takes the number of Australian Open players confined to hotel rooms to 72.

Players’ quarantine breaches are ‘dangerous acts’

It has been revealed that some of the people in quarantine have acted in ways that could threaten the health of other participants – and the event itself.

TND understands several quarantine breaches were linked to players and crew members leaving rooms to speak to one another.

Ms Cassar said one player opened his door to try to have a conversation with his training mate down the hallway. In another incident, a person who shouted food for others at the hotel – which is allowed – then broke the rules by opening his door to “praise himself for his great efforts”.

“It is very low level, but they are dangerous acts that we cannot tolerate,” she said.

“We take all breaches really seriously. For the players, that is a fine of up to $20,000 (after) a warning from the police.”

Meanwhile, some players have taken to social media to slam the meals being offered to them in quarantine.

Kazakh player Yulia Putintseva posted a video of a mouse in her room, saying she had asked to change rooms several times.

‘They never told us’

In response to criticism on social media, Swiss tennis star Belinda Bencic, 23, said she didn’t know about the risk of undergoing strict quarantine before she boarded the plane, saying “we arrived and received an information/rule book with more/new rules that we didn’t know about”.

Romanian tennis pro Sorana Cirstea agreed that the rules had changed, adding her main gripe was being unable to train.

“I would need at least 3 weeks after in order to be in decent form again and compete at a high level!” she said on Twitter.

Players who were not on those flights and who tested negative to the coronavirus are allowed out of their rooms to train for five hours each day.

The 30-year-old said she was under the impression players would be identified as “close contacts” only if someone in their team or cohort tested positive only.

“This was the deal before signing up to this… but the rules changed “overnight”!,” she said on Twitter.

Russian-born New Zealand player Artem Sitak disputed the claims, saying Tennis Australia told players of the risks in a conference call about a month ago.

However, he conceded many players were not involved in that phone call – which Sitak said was “surprising” – during which TA told them that the health authorities would make the final decision about who would go into lockdown if there was a positive test.

Ms Cassar said “the rules of close contacts have not changed”.

“There is no other way that you can consider this. If you are on a plane for 16 or 24 hours with air that circulates throughout the plane, you are a close contact. This is some of the early planning we did with Tennis Australia,” she said on Sunday afternoon.

“We do not deal with the players directly, we deal with Tennis Australia. But I can absolutely say that this was made very clear, and those rules have not changed. Again, this is about keeping people safe.”

Expert: Coronavirus risk is ‘quite low’

Professor Catherine Bennett, a top epidemiologist at Victoria’s Deakin University, said the decision to call everyone on the plane a ‘close contact’ was “taking an extreme precaution”.

“Planes have had an almost surprisingly better track record in terms of transmission than one might expect,” Professor Bennett said.

“A lot of that comes down to ventilation. The planes have HEPA filters that help remove particles from the air.

“If the cabin crew also worked in zones, and at 20 per cent capacity, then normally we would have considered the people two rows behind and two rows in front either side as close contacts, and the others you’d monitor.”

The risk of coronavirus transmission under these circumstances is therefore “quite low”, she said, though “not zero”.

Whether the decision to quarantine all passengers on board the flights was backed by science or not, clearly there had been a major communication breakdown between Tennis Australia and Australian Open players.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said he supported the Victorian government’s decision to quarantine players who were on board planes with COVID-positive passengers.

“With regards to the Australian Open, we respect not only the right, but also the processes of particular states to screen, to monitor, and to conduct events,” Mr Hunt said on Sunday.

Former Australian player turned coach and commentator Rennae Stubbs had little sympathy for the players, who will earn $100,000 even if they lose in the Open’s first round.

“I have opinions on these tennis players complaining about the quarantine situation here in OZ & for the Australian Open & they’re NOT going to want to hear it from me,” Stubbs tweeted.

“It’s got something to do with a minimum of $100,000, free flights, food & lots more, want to talk @ me kids?”

Meanwhile, other players were staying out of the debate and instead focusing on training.

They shared how they had been finding creative ways to stay fit within their four walls.

Tennis Australia did not respond to questions from TND before deadline.