Tennis players are set to face the “strongest and strictest” quarantine rules when they arrive in Melbourne for the Australian Open – and could be deported if they break the rules.
Around 1,200 players and officials are set to arrive this week ahead of the first Grand Slam of the year, which starts on February 8.
So how’s it all going to work? Just how strict are the rules and protocols? And what are the penalties for breaking them?
When do players arrive in Melbourne?
The first of 15 charter flights will be landing this week, bringing with them players, support staff and tennis officials from around the world.
Everyone will have been required to have a Covid-19 test before travelling. A positive result means they would not be allowed to board the plane, while if they get a positive result back when they are flying then they will be taken straight to a health hotel when they arrive.
The arrivals will undergo a two-phase screening process at the airport and, if they pass, they will then be escorted to one of three designated hotels for a 14-day quarantine period.
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How will players practise?
While newly-arrived tennis officials must spend 14 days in hotel quarantine, players will be allowed out after two days to train, providing they test negative.
Once out of the room they will follow a strict timetable and be limited to where they can go.
"The training facilities are dedicated to the hotel," explains Emma Cassar, Victoria's interim commissioner of Covid-19 quarantine.
"Those training bubbles don’t mix and are exclusive to the training centre.
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"It’s a one-way movement throughout the venue, they will do 130 minutes on the courts, they will then move to a 90-minute gym session, a 60-minute nutrition session, and then back to the hotel.
"On site we have will have PPE spotters, Covid marshals and event support officers to ensure all the infection prevention and control procedures are being adhered to; things like masks being worn, is sanitisation occurring, and looking out for tennis and staff safety.
"Once they finish it’s back to the hotel and that is repeated every day for the 14 days.”
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How often will players be tested?
Players and their support people will be tested daily. Players are allowed to have two people accompany them to the event, but only one can join them on the courts.
Staff working at the tournament will be tested every day they are on shift.
What are the potential punishments?
Tennis Australia chief Craig Tiley has warned that anyone breaking the rules will face heavy penalties.
“In addition to fines of around $20,000 and criminal penalties, any violation of the protocols could result in one of the following additional penalties: disqualification from the tournament, loss of the prize money, even more extensive quarantine, isolation in hotel room ordered by the government, arrest and deportation," he said.
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“The Grand Slams have a different set of rules and most importantly we are very strict about applying them. The players understand that any infraction could lead to disqualification and everyone would then be forced to return to their country.”
The Times also report that players have been warned that, “any breach by your team will be considered as a breach by you."
Is everyone happy with the rules?
There have been some grumblings.
Residents of the Westin Hotel, one of the hotels originally designated to house players, threatened a lawsuit to ensure it was not used by Tennis Australia.
World No 72 Jeremy Chardy has also expressed his frustration that six top-ranked players are heading to Adelaide before Melbourne.
Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka are among the players going to Adelaide where an exhibition event will be held.
The rules there will reportedly be different, with players allowed more staff with them and easier access to facilities.
“This announcement for the top threes is a bit out of the blue and it's weird, to put it mildly," Chardy told L'Equipe. “They will even be able to benefit from a gym at the hotel and will be able to do their [gym] exercises which will not count towards the five-hour quota. Everyone can go out. They will almost be able to live normally.”
Roger Federer has withdrawn from the tournament because of the quarantine protocols and American John Isner will also not play due to the restrictions.
Melbourne was due to host the season-opening Formula One race on March 21, but that has been postponed.
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Why such strict rules?
Because Australia has a very low number of Covid-19 cases and they want to keep it that way. There are also concerns about the new fast-spreading variant which has been in the UK.
Victorian police and emergency services minister Lisa Neville says the Australian Open arrangement has been approved by the chief health officer and the tournament would not be going ahead if it was not safe to do so.
"We have put in place the strongest and strictest rules that apply for tennis across the world," she said.
"There are bubbles that are operating in Doha [where Australian Open qualifying is being held] at the moment, but this is the strictest program in the world, in terms of hotel quarantine for our tennis players."
Neville also said it was important to host the event to secure the long-term future of the Australian Open.
"It's not an ongoing 1,200 people. It is a two-week program that guarantees the future of the Australian Open for all Victorians into the longer term."
Two players have tested positive in qualifying in Doha, including Denis Kudla, who was told about his result during a match.