The Australian Open was thrown into turmoil on Saturday when nearly 50 players were forced into hard quarantine after being identified as close contacts of positive COVID-19 cases on two charter flights to Melbourne. A total of 143 passengers and crew have been thrown into hotel quarantine, of which 27 players were players, including Urayguay’s Pablo Cuevas and Mexican player Santiago Gonzalez.
Controversially, the world-famous tennis tournament has been allowed to go ahead but with strict social distancing and hygiene rules in place, as well as multiple restrictions on pro-players and their entourages who will be arriving in the state of Victoria from Coronavirus hotspots around the world.
On Saturday, health officials in Victoria confirmed that one passenger, who is not a player but is involved in the tournament, as well as a member of aircrew had tested positive after arriving in Melbourne on a special charter flight from Los Angeles.
The crew member and passenger have been moved to a health hotel, while the other passengers, including 24 players have been placed into strict hotel quarantine. They will not be allowed to leave their rooms for 14-days and only after passing further Coronavirus tests.
Later on Saturday, Australian Open organisers confirmed that a passenger on a second charter flight from Abu Dhabi had also tested positive and that 64 other passengers, including 23 players had been identified as close contacts. They too will be placed into managed quarantine and won’t be allowed to train for the tournament until the two week isolation period is over.
Defending the safety measures in place, organisers said that all passengers and players on charter flights had to test negative for COVID-19 within 72-hours of travel. Organisers did not say what type of test was performed or whether rapid testing was also being used immediately prior to departure.
Marta Kostyuk, a pro tennis player from Ukraine who was a passenger onboard the Etihad Airways charter flight from Abu Dhabi posted a copy of the email she received from tournament organisers informing her of the positive case.
“Unfortunately, I have some bad news for you,” the email started. “The chief medical officer has reviewed the flight and had determined that everyone onboard needs to isolate and will be confined to their rooms for the 14 day quarantine period.”
Tennis players had been expecting quarantine-lite arrangements which would have allowed them to leave their hotel rooms for up to five hours a day in order to train in preparation for the tournament.
Organisers are now trying to work out how to ensure some players aren’t disadvantaged because they have been forced into stricter quarantine.
British pro-player Andy Murray confirmed he had been diagnosed with COVID-19 several days ago, before attempting to travel to Australia, while American Madison Keys pulled out the tournament last week after also testing positive.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.