Australian Open to go without fans as ‘new kind of enemy’ forces Victoria to lock down
- Updated: February 13, 2021
The Australian state of Victoria will lock down for five days in a bid to curb the spread of a more contagious coronavirus variant, meaning the Australian Open will go without fans during what is usually its busiest few days.
Authorities have identified 13 new cases tied to an employee of a quarantine hotel in Melbourne, who tested positive for the so-called United Kingdom coronavirus variant on Monday. Five of those cases were identified in the previous 24 hours, Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said at a news conference Friday.
Andrews that “this hyper-infectious variant is moving at hyper-speed,” and to stop it the government needed to enact a short, strict lockdown so people do not unwittingly infect others before they realize they have contracted the virus themselves.
“We are facing a new kind of enemy. A virus that is smarter, and faster, and more infectious,” Andrews said of the variant. “Until we have a vaccine, we need to do everything we can to keep this virus at bay.”
Australia has not yet begun rolling out coronavirus vaccines.
Play at the Australian Open, professional tennis’ first Grand Slam of the year, will continue but without spectators. Tennis Australia, which organizes the event, said it will enact its broadcast-only contingency plan and will offer fans refunds if they have tickets they can no longer use.
“Tennis Australia continues to work with the government to ensure the health and safety of everyone,” the organization said in a statement.
Tournament director and CEO of Tennis Australia Craig Tiley said players would live and compete in a biosecure “bubble” throughout the lockdown.
“The players will compete in a bubble form not dissimilar to what they’ve been doing right throughout the year,” he told reporters.
“In fact, this was the first event they played in front of crowds and now for the next five days they will continue to play and continue to compete.
“So those that will be allowed on site will be the players only and their direct support teams, as well as those staff members that are unable to do their work from home.”
American Serena Williams, right, serves to Russia’s Anastasia Potapova during their third round match on Rod Laver Arena at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, on Friday.
Andrews acknowledged just how gut-wrenching these restrictive measures will be to the people of Victoria, who endured one of the world’s longest and strictest lockdowns last year. For months, Victorians have been enjoying normal, coronavirus-free lives thanks to their earlier sacrifices.
Tennis fans told that attending and hosting the Open, one of Melbourne’s biggest events of the year, was something residents felt they had earned after so many weeks of vigilance. People may still be able to attend the tournament if the lockdown is not extended past 5 days, but the Open’s middle weekend is usually its most popular.
“Today hurts. Victorians know, better than anyone, just how deeply,” he said.
Andrews said people will only be allowed to leave their home for four reasons: shopping for necessities; care and caregiving; exercise; and work, if it is deemed essential by the government.
Shoppers and those going for exercise will only be allowed to travel within 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) of their home, unless they do not live that close to stores.
Most retail businesses will be forced to close, besides essential stores like supermarkets and pharmacies. Restaurants and cafes will be allowed to offer take-away service. And gatherings at private homes and in public are prohibited.
“By limiting our movement, we limit the potential spread of the virus,” Andrews said.