International tennis players and staff have touched down in Melbourne ahead of next month’s Australian Open, as Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews defends the grand slam going ahead.
The first of 15 charter flights carrying tennis players and officials for the tournament, starting on February 8, landed at Tullamarine’s Melbourne Jet Base about 6pm on Thursday.
The Doha flight arrivals were greeted by airport staff and biosecurity officials wearing personal protective equipment including masks and face shields, before being whisked away to hotel quarantine.
More private jets from Doha, Abu Dhabi, Los Angeles, Singapore and Dubai will land in the Victorian capital over the next 36 hours.
American world no.50 Tennys Sandgren, who was allowed to board his LA flight despite testing positive for coronavirus this week, is expected to arrive just before 3am Friday AEDT.
The former Australian Open quarter-finalist was deemed to be no longer contagious and a case of viral shedding, having been struck down with COVID-19 in November.
Sangdren praised Australian Open boss Craig Tiley for getting him on the flight, despite testing positive for COVID on Monday.
“Wow I’m on the plane … Craig Tiley is a wizard,” he wrote on Twitter.
Victorian Police Minister Lisa Neville defended the decision, saying health experts had deemed Sandgren’s positive test to be a result of viral shedding from his previous infection.
“No one who is COVID positive for the first time – or could still be infectious – will be allowed in for the Australian Open,” Ms Neville tweeted.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 14, 2021
Tennis Australia also scrambled to explain the situation.
“Some people who have recovered from COVID-19 and who are non-infectious can continue to shed the virus for several months,” the official Australian Open Twitter account wrote in response to Sandgren’s tweets.
“Victorian government public health experts assess each case based on additional detailed medical records to ensure they are not infectious before checking in to the charter flights.”
Sandgren had “self-disclosed that he previously tested positive in late November”, the Australian Open added in a follow-up statement, and “his medical file had to be reviewed by Victorian health authorities”.
“Upon completion of that review he was cleared to fly.”.
Daily COVID tests for players and staff
All players and staff based in Victoria will be tested daily and must quarantine at one of three Australian Open-dedicated hotels for two weeks.
But not all will be serving their quarantine stint in Melbourne.
Two special charter planes with mega-stars including Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams, Simona Halep, Naomi Osaka and Dominic Thiem are flying direct to Adelaide on Thursday night.
They will quarantine in North Adelaide’s Majestic M Hotel hotel before an exhibition event at Memorial Drive on January 29 in the South Australian capital.
Before the 1200-strong international contingent’s arrival, Mr Andrews rejected criticism of the Australian Open going ahead despite thousands of Victorians not being able to return home from the “red zones” of the Greater Brisbane and Sydney.
He said the grand slam was cleared to proceed on public health advice and added it is a massive jobs creator.
“This event is very important to our city and our state,” he told reporters.
“It is worth going to these unprecedented measures to be sure it goes ahead.”