Thousands of tennis fans descended on Melbourne Park to watch stars including Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams kick off the Australian Open on Monday, after a three-week delay and heightened drama over the cast’s quarantine.
Audiences forcibly exited on cloudy and cold summer mornings, enjoying the fact that they were some of the few people on the planet able to attend live sports during the Covid-19 pandemic. It is mandatory to only wear masks indoors at the event, but many people are seen milling about outside with their faces covered.
Many sporting events around the world have been forced to postpone or suspend competitions due to the virus and impose strict limits on attendance or ban fans altogether.
Australian Open organizers hope up 400,000 fans to attend this year’s tournament in social distancing, about half the amount at last year’s competition.
“It’s been absolutely phenomenal, it really happened,” said Pat Cash of Australia, a two-time runner-up in the men’s singles of the Australian Open, who now coaches China’s Qiang Wang.
A fan presence in Melbourne Park would not have been possible if Australia had not controlled its local coronavirus epidemic in 2020 with strict public health measures. The Australian government quickly closed its borders in March when the pandemic began, barred non-residents from entering the country, and imposed a mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine for incoming travelers.
Starting in July, most people returning to the country will have to pay for their quarantine – at a cost of about 3,000 Australian dollars ($ 2,300) or 5,000 Australian dollars ($ 3,800) each for a couple.
When Melbourne, the venue for the Open, experienced a coronavirus outbreak in mid-2020, the Victorian government placed the entire state on nearly four-month mandatory lockdown, one of the world’s longest acts of its kind.
Australia combines its contact tracing with widespread free testing. The country now has one of the lowest the positivity level test globally, with 0.2% of the sample having tested positive in the past week, according to the Australian health department.
While other Western countries including the United States and Britain have reported tens of thousands of new infections every day in recent months, Australia has gone weeks without a single case of the coronavirus being transmitted locally. However, a quarantine hotel worker in Melbourne tested positive for the virus on Sunday, the Victoria State Department of Health said in a statement. The individual works at the Holiday Inn at Melbourne Airport, but the department did not indicate whether the quarantine hotel was connected to any of the Australian Open players or staff.
Australia has seen fewer than 29,000 Covid-19 cases and 909 virus-related deaths, according to the country’s health department.
Experts say Australia’s success in coping with the pandemic is partly a product of geography – an island nation that can easily close its borders – but also a result of strong government action that most of its citizens are following.
Brendan Crabb, director and CEO of the Burnet Institute medical research group, said Australia has a population that is more receptive to health advice than other countries, partly because of its long history of publicly funded health care. While Americans in some states protest stay-at-home orders as a violation of their civil liberties, Australians generally take advice from the authorities.
Crabb said that although he would not initially support hosting the Australian Open amid the pandemic, it is possible that the event could now be a “signal to the world” of what might happen when you reach nearly zero coronavirus infections. .
“This is huge, I don’t mean for Australia, I mean for the Covid zero philosophy. It’s a very good way of life, healthy for health, healthy for your economy and it also makes sense to limit the number of (growing) mutant viruses,” he said.
“So you have this exhibition show that shows the world how valuable Covid zero is. I think that is a tremendous potential.”
Hang up the call
Photo of a crowded stands at an exhibition match in Adelaide on January 29, where tennis stars including Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal play, provoke excitement online of sports lovers.
“It makes my heart full to see the fans in the stands. What a great Australia!” said former world No.1 men’s player Andy Roddick on his Twitter account.
But even though Melbourne managed to contain the pandemic, organizers of the Australian Open 2021 took no risks – and the event managed to avoid disaster on several occasions.
Craig Tiley, CEO of Tennis Australia, described his team’s efforts to host the event as “Herculean.”
“We have to take 1,000 people from over 100 countries around the world on 17 charter flights from various cities to Melbourne, and quarantine the number of people for 14 days and then every day, the athletes, allow them to be out of the room for five hours,” he said. .
Tiley said to help with contact tracing, the Melbourne Park site will be divided into three parts, meaning that if a coronavirus case is detected it will be easier to find out who has been in which area.
All event tickets are digital and no cash payment is accepted – all designed to reduce the risk of transmission.
There are some close calls. In January, when players started arriving in Australia, several people associated with the Open tested positive for the virus while in quarantine. The original plan was to allow players in quarantine five hours a day to train. However, as a result of testing positive, 72 players were told they could not leave their rooms for the full 14 days.
News provokes anger among some competitors, who complained that if they had known about the strict restrictions, they probably wouldn’t come.
“The players must be nervous,” said Cash, the tennis coach. “This is not normal preparation, perhaps far from what they usually want.”
Australian authorities, however, have no regrets.
“That’s the condition they came in,” said Victorian Prime Minister Daniel Andrews at the time. “So there’s no special treatment here … because the virus doesn’t treat you specifically, so neither do we.”
Then, with just days before the start of the tournament, a security guard at one of Melbourne’s quarantine hotels tested positive for the virus – forcing his close contacts back into isolation until they were free of infection.
That includes more than 500 Australian Open players and staff, all tested negative on Friday, allowing the tournament to continue as planned.
Tiley said it was the role of her organization to make sure that the health protocols were very clear and everyone adhered to them.
“One thing we know about a pandemic is uncertainty. And you never know what will happen,” he said.