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Grand slam champions among tennis players quarantined at Australian Open

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By Euronews with AP
Spain's Rafael Nadal arrives at Adelaide Airport ahead of the Australian Open
Spain's Rafael Nadal arrives at Adelaide Airport ahead of the Australian Open   -   Copyright  AP Photo
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Grand slam champions are among 47 players in hard lockdown at the Australian Open, after four people on charter flights into Australia tested positive for COVID-19.

The positive cases were found on two of the flights that brought players, staff, officials and media to Melbourne for the first grand slam tournament of the year.

Players classed as close contacts, having been on the same flight as those who later tested positive, have to stay in a harsher quarantine as opposed to the wider group of players who will be allowed out of their rooms to practice for up to five hours a day.

Those in strict quarantine will have to stay there for 14 days, and won’t be eligible to practice during that time.

Local health authorities have said all players were warned of the risks in advance.

Three cases were announced on Saturday and Victoria state’s COVID-19 quarantine commissioner Emma Cassar told a news conference on Sunday that there’d been a fourth positive test involving a person flying in for the Australian Open.

So far there has been no announcement of players testing positive.

Three cases emerged from the flight from Los Angeles to Melbourne, officials said, including a member of the air crew, a coach and the latest being a member of the TV broadcasting team.

The other case was a coach who took the charter flight from Abu Dhabi to Melbourne.

All four had tested negative before boarding their flights to Australia. All four have now been transferred to a health hotel.

Sylvain Bruneau, who coaches 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu, posted on social media to say he was on the flight from Abu Dhabi and had tested positive.

Two-time Open champion Victoria Azarenka and the 2014 US Open runner-up Kei Nishikori were reported to be on the flight from Los Angeles.

All passengers from both of those flights are in hard lockdown.

Cassar, who is also in charge of the state’s prisons, said there’d been cases of people “testing” the quarantine procedures, triggering a warning and a conversation with the state’s police, but no attempts to escape quarantine.

“There’ll be zero tolerance for that behavior,” Cassar said. “This is designed to make people safe. We make no apologies for that.”

Several players in quarantine, including Sorana Cirstea of Romania, Belinda Bencic of Switzerland and Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan complained in social media posts that the rules seemed to have changed between what they saw before traveling to Australia and what was being imposed in Melbourne.

Cirstea posted on Twitter: “If they would have told us this rule before I would not play Australia ... I would have stayed home. They told us we would fly at 20% capacity, in sections and we would be a close contact ONLY if my team or cohort tests positive.”

But government officials have rejected those claims.

“There’s no other way you can consider this. If you’re on a plane 16-24 hours, with air that circulates throughout the plane, you are a close contact,” Cassar said. “This was made very clear and nothing has changed.”

Tennis Australia confirmed there were 24 players on the flight from Los Angeles and 23 on the flight from Abu Dhabi. Those were among 17 charter flights from seven international destinations bringing up to 1,200 players, coaches, staff and officials into Australia for the tournament.

Five-time Australian Open finalist Andy Murray and American Madison Keys haven't traveled to Australia after testing positive in mandatory pre-flight checks.

Tickets are on sale for the tournament, although the crowd capacity at Melbourne Park will be limited.

Australia's international borders are basically closed to travelers, although there are exemptions in special circumstances.

Each of Australia's states and territories has its own border and quarantine rules, and those can change on very short notice.

Victoria state, which has as its capital Melbourne, accounted for 810 of Australia's 909 deaths from COVID-19, most of those during a deadly second wave three months ago which resulted in curfews and lockdowns for the city.