News National Australian Open chaos escalates as scores of players forced into hard lockdown
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Australian Open chaos escalates as scores of players forced into hard lockdown

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Chaos surrounding the Australian Open has escalated, with 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 64 people, including 28 players, who all must now undergo strict quarantine for a fortnight.

The news comes as Victoria reported no fresh community infections, meaning the Open is at the centre of all the state’s new cases.

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

COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria’s Emma Cassar on Sunday afternoon identified the latest case as that of member of an overseas TV broadcast team.

The infected people had all tested negative before departing for Australia.

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 from infected flights will be unable to train for two weeks leading up to the tournament but will have to maintain their fitness from their hotel rooms – and many aren’t happy about their accommodation.

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.

Frustration is growing among players, with several taking to social media to vent their views.

“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,” France’s Alize Cornet posted in a tweet which she later deleted, noting she was not on that plane.

Belgium’s Kirsten Flipkens said it was “insane” for players not to be able to train for two weeks before the tournament.

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 on 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,” Mr Tiley said.

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, Mr 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,” Mr 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