MELBOURNE (Reuters) – The build-up for next month’s Australian Open suffered a jolt after two coronavirus infections were reported on a flight to the year’s first grand slam on Saturday, forcing two weeks of hotel quarantine for 24 players and their entourage on board.
Health officials in Victoria state, where Melbourne is the capital, said an aircrew member and Australian Open participant who is not a player had been transferred to a health hotel following positive test results for the new coronavirus.
“The 24 players will not be able to leave their hotel rooms for 14 days and until they are medically cleared,” the tournament organisers said in a statement. “They will not be eligible to practise.”
The decision will translate into unequal preparation for the participants. Uruguayan Pablo Cuevas took to Twitter to express his feelings.
“From having 5 hours of training in a bubble to this … (strict quarantine x 15 days). I will be showing you my workouts x Instagram (inside the room),” wrote the world number 68.
Australia has agreed to accept about 1,200 players, officials and staff on 15 flights for the major sporting event that is due to begin next month.
Apart from Cuevas, Mexican player Santiago Gonzalez also confirmed being on that flight in a social media post.
Other players cited by local media as likely to be on the flight included Tennys Sandgren, who was granted special permission to travel from Los Angeles late last week after testing positive for the new coronavirus, which he had previously had, and world 13 doubles player Victoria Azarenka of Belarus.
“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,” said tournament director Craig Tiley.
Scottish former world number one Andy Murray revealed he tested positive for COVID-19 last week but said he was in good health and still hoped to compete. American Madison Keys pulled out last week after she tested positive.
The inbound infections came as Australia recorded one locally acquired case, as states began to relax travel bans on signs an outbreak in the northern state of Queensland has been contained.
The case, in western Sydney, is thought to be linked a known cluster in New South Wales, the most populous state, health officials said.
Australia has halved the number of returning travellers that it will accept, to lower the risk of highly infectious strains seeping into the community, as occurred at a site in Queensland two weeks ago.
Emirates Airline said Friday it would suspend flights between Dubai and Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane by early next week until further notice.
Queensland has recorded two weeks since its latest hotel outbreak, fuelling hopes the spread has been contained. As a result, Victoria and South Australia states will reopen borders to the state by Sunday.
Australia, which logged 20 infections hotel quarantine overnight, has been one of the world’s most successful nations in managing the coronavirus spread, with about 28,700 infections and 909 deaths.
Reporting by Melanie Burton and Ian Ransom; Additional reporting by Amlan Chakraborty; Editing by William Mallard