Spectators barred from Australian Open as state enters COVID-19 lockdown

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MELBOURNE, Feb. 12 (Xinhua) — Spectators will be barred from attending the Australian Open (AO) beginning from Saturday, as host State Victoria enters a five-day lockdown to contain a cluster of 19 active COVID-19 cases.

While matches will continue to be played, the groundbreaking decision to allow limited numbers of spectators to attend the event was reversed, in line with new government regulations.

“There will be no fans onsite at the AO for five days, commencing from Saturday 13 February,” event officials said in a statement.

“Tennis Australia continues to work with the government to ensure the health and safety of everyone.”

On Friday morning, five locally acquired cases were officially recorded in Victoria, stemming from an outbreak at the Melbourne Airport Holiday Inn. The cases were determined to be the more infectious strain of virus first reported in the UK.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said due to the speed and “hyper-infectivity” of the strain, on the advice of health experts, a five-day lockdown would be implemented across the whole of Victoria to prevent a third wave of the pandemic.

“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 said.

Residents will only be able to leave their homes to shop for essential items, exercise, work, or to provide care or medical assistance. Masks will also become mandatory outdoors as well as indoors.

“Large and small professional sport events, they will function essentially as a workplace,” Andrews said. “But they will not function as an entertainment event because there will be no crowds. And the workforce will be the minimum that is needed in order for that to be Covid-safe and safe in lots of other contexts.”

Since starting on Monday, the AO has allowed spectators at roughly 50 percent of capacity, or around 30,000 people per day. However, actual numbers have been well below that.

Friday’s day and night events were allowed to continue with crowds. However, the first Saturday of the AO, which traditionally records one of the highest days of attendance, will now be crowd-free, as will all events up to and including the men’s and women’s quarterfinal rounds.

“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,” organizers said.

Andrews said he understood the decision was a difficult one. However, the aim of achieving zero cases of local transmission was highly desirable and worth the short-term difficulty of a temporary lockdown.

“The doctors who saw us do what no other part of the world has done — defeat a second wave — are the same doctors, the same scientists, the same experts that will see us avoid a third wave,” he said. Enditem

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