The Australian Open will be played behind closed doors for at least five days from Saturday over fears of a new wave of the British strain of Covid-19 in Victoria.
The Victorian Government announced overnight that the new measures will come into effect at 11.59pm local time – 12.59pm in the UK this afternoon.
The new lockdown has been brought in after an outbreak of coronavirus at a Melbourne Airport Holiday Inn has seen 13 positive tests of the UK variant – some from relatives of hotel workers outside the quarantine area.
All schools and universities are to close and most people are ordered to stay-at-home and only go out for essential shopping, medical care, exercise or essential work.
Tennis stars are classed as “essential workers” and the first Grand Slam of the season will continue at Melbourne Park.
But Victorian premier Daniel Andrews said: “They will function essentially as a workplace. But they will not function as an entertainment event because there will be no crowds.”
Victorians, and all tennis players who had served a two-week quarantine on arrival Down Under, had been enjoying a relatively normal life with bars and restaurants open and 50% capacity allowed in Melbourne Park – up to a permitted 30,000 fans a day. Matches will continue with crowds until midnight tonight local time.
Serena Williams, who won through to the fourth round on Friday, said: "Actually, I didn't know at all (about the lockdown) until the match was over. I think it's good that I didn't know. It's been really fun to have the crowd back, especially here. It's been really cool.
"It's rough. It's going to be a rough few days for I think everyone. But we'll hopefully get through it."
Tournament director Craig Tiley briefed players on Friday afternoon in Melbourne and said the only concern was how players were going to get home with international flights also cancelled. “The feedback we've had from all the players is that they just want to get on and play,” he said. “They've been playing in a bubble for a year now.”
An Australian Open statement said: “The Victorian government has announced a five day lockdown commencing at 11:59pm on Friday. Australian Open sessions today and tonight will continue as planned with COVIDSafe protocols in place.
“We are notifying ticket holders, players and staff that there will be no fans onsite at the AO for five days, commencing from Saturday 13 February.
“Full refunds will be available for anyone who has tickets for these sessions and they will be advised on how to apply as soon as possible.”
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