Tennis Australia has confirmed there was one positive test from a passenger – who is not a player – on the flight from the United Arab Emirates. They said that passenger had tested negative before joining the flight.
“There were 64 people on the flight, including 23 players,” TA said in a statement.
“All passengers from the flight are already in quarantine hotels and the positive case, who is not a player and had tested negative before the flight, has been transferred to a health hotel.”
It came to light earlier on Saturday that there were two positive COVID-19 cases on the flight from Los Angeles – a crew member, and an Australian Open participant who is not a player – throwing tournament plans into chaos. The two have been moved to a “health hotel”. There are 24 players impacted on the flight from LA, among 67 passengers and 79 people on board.
In a statement, TA said it was in close contact with the players impacted “whose conditions have now changed”.
It has been scrambling to bring together the complex final arrangements for the delayed Australian Open – starting on February 8 – including the controversial quarantine program for more than 1200 people staying at three inner-city hotels.
Players have largely been tight-lipped about the need to enter hard quarantine but Frenchwoman Alize Cornet, who arrived in Melbourne on Friday night, questioned the measures.
“Soon, half of the players from the AO will actually have to isolate. Weeks and weeks of practice and hard work going to waste for one person positive to Covid in a 3/4 empty plane. Sorry but this is insane,” Cornet tweeted.
When asked what players were told in the lead-up to their trip to Australia, she said: “We’ve been told that the plane would be separated by section of 10 people and that if one person of your section was positive, then you had to isolate. Not that the whole plane had to.”
The LA cases were the first positive cases among the contingent of players and officials arriving for the Open. Separately, American Tennys Sandgren was allowed to travel to Australia after his positive test was deemed to be a case of “viral shedding”.
All players coming to Australia had secured a daily five-hour training period during their mandatory quarantine as part of the contentious conditions allowing the Open to go ahead, which the players in lockdown will lose.
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley confirmed all impacted players would not be allowed outside to practice.
Those affected include veteran Japanese player and world No.41 Kei Nishikori, Uruguayan world No. 68 Pablo Cuevas and Mexican doubles player Santiago Gonzalez.
According to sources with knowledge of the situation, Nishikori and members of his entourage have returned negative test results.
Tiley said TA’s thoughts were with the two people who tested positive.
“We are communicating with everyone on this flight, and particularly the playing group whose conditions have now changed, to ensure their needs are being catered to as much as possible, and that they are fully appraised of the situation,” Tiley said.
Meanwhile, Cuevas confirmed on social media he was affected.
“From having 5 hours of training in a bubble to this … (strict quarantine x 15 days). I will show you my workouts x Instagram (inside the room),” Cuevas tweeted.
The government body helping coordinate the arrangements, COVID-19 Victoria, said the “Australian Open participant” who tested positive on the flight from LA had a negative test before flying.
“The aircrew member and the passenger have been interviewed and transferred to a health hotel as per normal processes for positive cases,” a spokesperson said.
“All remaining 66 passengers on the flight have been determined to be close contacts. Any players and support people will not be able to leave quarantine to attend training.
“The remaining flight crew all tested negative and were permitted to fly out, without passengers, directly to their home port. They left at 7am today.”
Amid strong community concern about holding the Australian Open during a pandemic, while the number of returned travellers coming to Australia is capped, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews strongly defended the arrangements and said the event’s grand slam status was continuously under threat.
“You could always argue that there would always be an Australian Open, tennis, whether it’s grand slam or not, or a pretty small regional tournament, that’s what’s at stake here,” Mr Andrews said.
“To suggest that the grand slam status of this tournament is somehow locked in forever is simply wrong.”
A leaked letter from one of the passengers on a flight revealed the situation.
“Unfortunately we have been informed by the health authorities that two people on your flight AR7493 from LAX that arrived at 5.15am on Friday 15 January have returned positive COVID-19 PCR tests on arrival in Melbourne,” the letter read.
“The Chief Health Officer has reviewed the flight and has determined that everyone on board needs to isolate and will be confined to their rooms for the 14-day quarantine.
“We know this is not how you imagined your preparations for the AO would start but our entire team is here to support you and do everything that we can to get you through this.
“You will soon be contacted by our medical experts, Aspen Medical, if you haven’t been already. They are available 24/7 to support you with all of your medical, mental health or wellbeing concerns.
“The most important thing you need to know right now is you are not alone in this and we are here to provide you any extra support you need.”
When the Open’s contentious quarantine program started on Thursday night, Andy Murray and Madison Keys were unable to take their spots on the chartered planes after they returned positive tests before flying.
Mr Andrews reiterated his confidence in the quarantine system.”We are running a hotel quarantine model to the highest standard,” he said.
“They are the important decisions that have been made … [and have] no impact whatsoever on the number of returning Australians that are coming into hotel quarantine here.”
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Scott Spits is a sports reporter for The Age