Testing times for Australian Open organisers after COVID-19 case | Reuters

Melbourne health officials were getting down to the business of testing 520 tennis players and officials for COVID-19 on Thursday after the infection of a quarantine hotel worker threatened the Australian Open. Slideshow ( 2 images )

Thursday’s warm-up matches at Melbourne Park were cancelled after the case was announced late on Wednesday, and those who underwent quarantine at the Grand Hyatt hotel were told to get tested and isolate until they had a result.

Victoria state Premier Dan Andrews said he thought the case was not a threat to the tournament, which is scheduled to start on Monday, and health officials said the testing was precautionary.

“We think the risk to other guests in the hotel - tennis players and their accompanying staff - is relatively low because they were in the room at the time as opposed to staff outside the room,” Professor Allen Cheng told reporters.

“The last person to leave, the last case to leave the health hotels, left on (Jan.) 22nd, so that is now getting close to 14 days since that time,” Cheng added. “So if there was any exposure, they would be coming up to that period. So we think that risk is relatively low, which is why we are testing them to be sure.”

Victoria endured one of the longest and toughest lockdowns in the world to contain the new coronavirus, and Wednesday’s case was the first to be locally acquired in the state for almost a month.

Andrews has made it clear that the safety of the community is paramount and said there were “no guarantees” the Australian Open would go ahead.

“At this stage, the tennis shouldn’t be impacted by this,” he told reporters. “These things can change (but) this has been a textbook response to this.”

Michael O’Brien, the leader of the opposition in Victoria’s state parliament, called on the government to make a call by Saturday on whether the tournament would go ahead.

“We don’t want to see a situation as we did with the Grand Prix, where crowds were literally turning up, only to be turned away,” he told Melbourne’s Herald Sun newspaper. “I think people are entitled to know what’s happening, and the government should be making their minds up in the next 24 to 48 hours.”

The Australian Grand Prix, the traditional season opener of the Formula One championship, was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic last March a few hours before the cars were due to take to the track at Melbourne’s Albert Park.

Tennis Australia spent millions of dollars to quarantine around 1,200 players, coaching staff and officials for 14 days in Melbourne from the middle of last month in order to get the Grand Slam tournament under way.

Most players were allowed five hours outside for training but 72 were confined to hotel rooms for the two weeks after passengers on the charter flights that brought them to Australia tested positive for the virus.

Most cleared quarantine last weekend and were involved in six events at Melbourne Park, including the ATP Cup, designed to offer them some match practice before the hardcourt Grand Slam.

Organisers, who have plenty of experience rescheduling matches because of rain, hot weather and bushfire smoke, said a schedule for Friday’s play would be released later Thursday.

The draw for the Australian Open is also scheduled to take place on Thursday evening. Reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney; additional reporting by Swati Pandey, editing by Toby Davis and Gerry Doyle

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