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Players, Officials Face Tough COVID-19 Controls Ahead of Australian Open

Tennis players and officials disembark from a flight after arriving in Melbourne on Jan. 14, 2021, to quarantine ahead of the Australian Open tennis tournament.

Some 1,200 tennis players and officials from around the world will face strict COVID-19 controls as they start to arrive in Melbourne ahead of the Australian Open. They must spend 14 days in hotel quarantine, like any other international traveler arriving in Australia, but will be allowed to train. Australia’s had 28,650 coronavirus cases been reported since the pandemic began, and more than 900 people have died.

All players taking part in next month’s delayed Australian Open must be tested for COVID-19 before they travel. They will arrive in Melbourne on 15 charter flights and will stay in three dedicated quarantine hotels.

Players and their support staff will be allowed to leave their rooms for a few hours to train at secure venues. Fines up to $15,000 could apply to anyone who breaks strict biosecurity orders. Tennis officials have said the grand slam would help the “economic and psychological … rejuvenation of Melbourne,” a city that endured Australia’s longest coronavirus lockdown.

Emma Cassar, Victoria state’s interim commissioner of COVID-19 quarantine, said she believes the event can be held safely.

“If we focus on the testing regime for a moment,” she said, “so, all players and their plus-ones will be tested daily. So, that is six nose-throat swabs and eight saliva swabs. That is in addition to our staff, who also are tested daily when they are on shift. For people who are not playing and coming out of their hotel rooms it is the same as mandatory quarantine, which is testing on Day 3 and Day 11.”

In Queensland, state authorities are tightening mandatory biosecurity procedures for travelers returning from overseas after a cluster of the highly contagious British variant of the coronavirus was discovered at a quarantine hotel in Brisbane.

“I think we need to immediately look at the way in which we are handling people coming into the country -- international arrivals -- and also at the quarantine hotels that they are going into,” said Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk. “Everybody in Australia needs to be aware that it has really stepped up to that next level. So, I think everybody needs to be on a higher alert with this particular strain.”

In March, Australia closed its borders to international travelers. Along with mass testing, sophisticated contact tracing and strict lockdowns, border closures have been a key part of the nation’s response to COVID-19.

Australian citizens and permanent residents are allowed to return home, where they face 14 days’ compulsory quarantine in a hotel.

The number of international passengers arriving in the states of New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia has been cut in half until mid-February to reduce the risk of exposure from the highly contagious British strain of coronavirus.

An official inquiry blamed breaches in hotel security for a deadly second wave of infections in Victoria last year, which forced the city of Melbourne into a four-month lockdown.