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Melbourne Residents 'Paranoid' Australian Open Could Become 'Superspreader Event'

Despite authorities approving the tennis tournament to go ahead, some locals fear a lockdown is looming.

While masks, social distancing and a limit on spectators at 50% capacity are Tennis Australia’s measures to push ahead with the Australian Open on February 8, many Melbournians are concerned the tournament could lead to another COVID-19 outbreak and lockdown.

The city of five million people came out of one of the strictest lockdowns in late 2020, when businesses were shut and residents were confined to their homes for more than three months.

Spectators arrive wearing face masks at Melbourne Park on Friday in Melbourne.
Jack Thomas via Getty Images
Spectators arrive wearing face masks at Melbourne Park on Friday in Melbourne.
Locals near Melbourne's Flinders Street station on Thursday after Victoria reintroduced COVID-19 restrictions following a quarantine hotel worker testing positive on Wednesday.
Asanka Ratnayake via Getty Images
Locals near Melbourne's Flinders Street station on Thursday after Victoria reintroduced COVID-19 restrictions following a quarantine hotel worker testing positive on Wednesday.

At 11:59pm Wednesday, Victoria reintroduced mandatory mask rules, capped private gatherings at 15 people and paused an increase on the number of people allowed in offices after a quarantine hotel worker contracted the coronavirus. Premier Daniel Andrews said that “there’s no need for people to panic”.

Some locals have admitted on social media that they’re concerned the tennis tournament, which has brought more than 500 international players and staff into Australia, could become a “superspreader event” and lead to another hard lockdown which will cost them their freedom and livelihood.

“Not gonna lie I am somewhat paranoid that the Australian Open is gonna be a super spreader event and Melbourne will go into another lockdown,” one person wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

Another Twitter user said, “I just have to say this, screw the Australian Open! If we enter lockdown for a brainless ball sport, I, and many will suffer income loss”.

Earlier in the week, the Australian Open group that stayed at Melbourne’s quarantine hotel, Grand Hyatt, were instructed to get tested and isolate until they had a result.

On Friday, Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley said the tournament will still go ahead after 495 Australian Open players and staff tested negative for the coronavirus, with 12 awaiting results.

“So far everyone is negative,” Tiley told 3AW. “We’ve got a few pending. The pending ones are just a result of them being tested later last night.

“So far that’s positive, and hopefully in the next few hours, we get the positive outcome that they are all are negative.”

Tennis player Maria Sakkari of Greece (center) waits outside a hotel Thursday for a COVID-19 test in Melbourne.
WILLIAM WEST/AFP via Getty Images
Tennis player Maria Sakkari of Greece (center) waits outside a hotel Thursday for a COVID-19 test in Melbourne.

Tennis Australia is confident the Australian Open will be safe to go ahead, with health authorities allowing 30,000 fans per day, about 50% capacity, to attend come Monday. Spectators will be advised to carry masks.

“Spectators will continue to be allowed in the site, and we are still selling tickets,” Tiley said. “The site will be an extremely safe place.”

At a press conference on Thursday, Tilley said tennis players won’t necessarily face additional testing if they receive negative results on Friday.

“The current regime is that when you came out of 14 days of quarantine after being tested every day, the testing would only pick up if you showed any kind of symptoms,” he said.

With files from Reuters.

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