More positive cases linked to Australian Open ‘likely’ in coming days

More players and officials landing in Melbourne for the Australian Open are likely to test positive to coronavirus within days after new cases were confirmed among participants arriving for the tennis tournament.

Infectious disease experts warned the virus could still be incubating in some of the 1200 who had arrived in Melbourne since Thursday, some from countries considered COVID-19 hotspots.

Tennis players and officials are being quarantined at the View hotel in Melbourne.Credit:Eddie Jim

More than 70 players – almost one-fifth of those taking part in the Grand Slam – have been confined to their hotel rooms after they were deemed close contacts of people who had tested positive to the virus after landing in Melbourne.

Another four coronavirus cases – one of whom Victoria's Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said was believed to be a player – linked to the Australian Open were confirmed by officials on Monday, bringing the total number of infections to six.

In addition to those six cases, a member of the air crew on one of 17 flights chartered by tournament organisers has also tested positive to the virus.

The lockdown for players considered close contacts means they cannot leave their rooms to train.

Some of the remaining 320-odd players in Melbourne, who are in hotel quarantine but allowed to train for up to five hours per day, missed their session on Monday due to delays that prompted an apology from Tennis Australia.

Fifty of the sport's biggest stars, including Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal, and world No. 1 men's tennis player Novak Djokovic, are staying in Adelaide under less onerous conditions, allowing them to see their families and have contact with coaches and support staff.

Meanwhile, Australian player Ellen Perez’s return from Dubai was delayed after she had a runny nose before boarding one of the charter flights. She later recorded a negative COVID-19 test and will have to serve 14 days of mandatory quarantine in Australia – outside of the Australian Open program – once she arrives.

University of South Australia biostatistics and epidemiology Professor Adrian Esterman said he expected more of those arriving for the Open would test positive within days.

Those players who did not travel on flights with a positive case are allowed to train for up to five hours a day.Credit:Eddie Jim

"There was an initial delay as tests needed to be received, verified and cross-referenced … And then unfortunately there were some logistical problems with transport … Our team is continuing to work with the authorities to help in any way we can. We understand this has been frustrating for the players and apologise."

Meanwhile, Djokovic has come under fire amid claims he wrote a list of six proposals to improve hotel quarantine conditions for those competing in the Australian Open.

Among the demands was a request for players in hard lockdown to be released early from hotel quarantine and for as many as possible to be moved to private properties with tennis courts to prepare for the Open.

Professor Esterman said Australia's quarantine measures would likely have come as a shock to many players who had flown in from countries that do not have the same level of precautions against coronavirus infection.

"Australians have been very, very good in terms of sticking to what they're asked to do but a lot of these players are coming in a bit like prima donnas … they want their food, they are making their own demands, so it’s going to be potentially challenging to make them stick to what’s required," Professor Esterman said.

Paul McNamee, a former Australian Open director and CEO, and the coach of world No.1 doubles player Su-wei Hsieh, has just emerged from two weeks of quarantine in an Adelaide hotel after returning to Australia from Bulgaria, a Balkans country that couldn’t afford to shut its economy against COVID-19 even if it wanted to.

"It is a shock to many players that we are so pedantic about it," he said. "They are not used to that."

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews hit back on Monday at demands from players: "The rules will not be changing, because the public health advice is where those rules came from."

"People are free to provide lists of demands, but the answer is no," he said. "There's no special treatment here. Because the virus doesn't treat you specially. So neither do we."

When asked on Melbourne radio station 3AW if Victoria would allow players to see their coaches face-to-face or let them train at private properties with tennis courts, Commissioner for Corrections Victoria Emma Cassar said: "Absolutely not."

"We're not modifying the program," she said. "We understand the 14 days is really tough … but we're not taking risks on community safety."

University of Melbourne epidemiologist John Mathews said among the most challenging aspects of flying in more 1000 people from all over the world was that "you can’t predict the risk of transmission on the plane."

"This is a very difficult situation and nobody can really predict how this will end," Professor Mathews said.

"If everyone sits in their seats and doesn’t move then the risk of transmission is usually confined to the people who are sitting close to a person who is infected. But, of course, when you load the plane and unload it and when people go to the toilet they are moving around."

The South Australian tennis quarantine bubble has been capped at 50 people, including star players Djokovic, Williams and Nadal, as well as Simona Halep, Dominic Thiem and Naomi Osaka.

SA Health has repeatedly refused to answer questions its infection protocols in the state's hotel quarantine program and whether its measures are as stringent as those enforced in Victoria.

It did not comment in response to questions about its hotel quarantine program, including how many players and officials are allowed in training bubbles, and whether alarms were fitted outside rooms like in Melbourne.

An SA Health spokeswoman said the tennis quarantine program was the subject of a private agreement with Tennis Australia. Tennis Australia has not responded to requests for details about the arrangement.

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