Australia's second-most populous city will enter a five-day snap coronavirus lockdown, authorities said on Friday, barring spectators from the Australian Open.
A fresh Covid-19 cluster linked to a quarantine hotel in Melbourne, the capital of Victoria state, reached 13 cases as of Thursday midnight as authorities rushed to quash the spread of the virus.
"Australian Open sessions today and tonight will continue as planned with Covid safe protocols in place," organisers Tennis Australia said in a statement.
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We are notifying ticket holders, players and staff that there will be no fans onsite at the Australian Open for five days, commencing from Saturday.
Fans who had already bought tickets would get a refund.
Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews announced the lockdown for the state, calling it a "short, sharp circuit breaker" banning public gatherings, home auctions, weddings and religious gatherings.
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"There will be no crowds" at sporting events in the state, Andrews said. The tournament runs until February 21. Crowds had already been limited to 50% of usual capacity for the Grand Slam event.
"We must assume that there are further cases in the community than we have positive results for, and that it is moving at a velocity that has not been seen anywhere in our country over the course of these last 12 months," Andrews told reporters.
Victoria endured one of the world’s strictest and longest lockdowns last year.
Ahead of the announcement, Prime Minister Scott Morrison offered his government's full support for Victoria's decisions on containing the outbreak.
"We have dealt with (outbreaks) in the last few weeks in Sydney and Brisbane and Perth, and so a proportionate response... enables tracers to be able to get on top of it and get the same successful result we have seen in other states," Morrison told reporters.
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'Players in a bubble anyway'
Eurosport tennis expert Barbara Schett, who lives in Queensland, Australia with her family, provided her reaction to the news and said it will not change things for the players too much.
"I think Tennis Australia were in a position where they knew something could happen if any cases popped up, the Victorian government is pretty fast shutting things down," Schett said.
"To be honest, I don’t see a lot changing at the Australian Open, it’s still going to continue, obviously without crowds. Players are used to playing without crowds but the tournament is happening and continuing.
"The crowds will be back in five days for basically the finish of the tournament, the semi-finals and finals which is good. Craig Tiley and Daniel Andrews, the Premier of Victoria are very close, very tight, and it’s just the way it goes in Australia.
"I don’t think it changes the dynamic of the tournament too much because the players are shut off, they are in a bubble anyway, so for them not much will change except for the crowd and the dynamic of the tournament shouldn’t be interrupted at all."
Also speaking in the Eurosport Cube, Mats Wilander added that he believes the lack of fans over the next five days due to new lockdown laws in place in Melbourne won't affect the quality of the action.
"That’s what I was most of proud of in 2020 during the pandemic – for the players to play in front of no people at the US Open and just a few people at the French Open, you could not tell the difference in the player – they were behaving the same way.
"I didn’t see any change in body language from anyone. The intensity is there, the players are used to it and I think we are learning that – yes, they enjoy the crowd of course, but they don’t need the crowd to play their best tennis. At least, not the majority of players."
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Additional reporting from Reuters
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