Asked why it was safe to allow Rod Laver Arena to be heavily-attended in the final matches of the tournament but not the earlier matches, Mr Pakula replied: “Because that’s the arrangement that’s been ticked off by the Chief Health Officer and the public health team.”
He said the government was “absolutely not” taking a bigger risk for the later rounds to improve the atmosphere with bigger crowds for late-stage matches that will be viewed by greater numbers of fans globally.
“These arrangements have gone through exactly the same process as every other public event that has been approved,” he said.
“Rod Laver Arena will have an incredible atmosphere, not that different to the atmosphere we’ve seen at all the Opens in the years past.
“It will not be the same … but it will be the most significant international event with crowds that the world has seen in many, many months.”
Tennis Australia chief Craig Tiley said the event would “set an example” to the rest of the world and solidify Melbourne’s place as the international sporting capital.
He said differing quarantine arrangements for players had not created an uneven playing field for the Australian Open, but he admitted for some it was not a “perfectly ideal” run-up to the tournament.
Mr Tiley said there were 72 athletes who were made to enter ‘hard’ 14-day quarantine, and those players would be given priority with their schedules and access to training facilities in the coming days.
“I think we all underestimated the amount of work and effort and intensity that went in over the last few weeks, but we came out of it with a great success,” he said.
“There have been a lot of questions about a ‘fair’ playing field, some players have had to quarantine, some have not.
The announcement comes after Victoria recorded no new locally acquired cases of coronavirus. There was just one case detected in overseas travellers staying in hotel quarantine, taking the state’s total to 23 active cases, all of which are in hotel isolation. The new case is due to a woman in her 20s arriving in Australia as a crew member on an international airline.
There were 13,702 tests processed in Victoria on Friday.
WA to relax border rules for visitors from Victoria, Qld
WA Premier Mark McGowan announced on Saturday that residents from Queensland and Victoria will be able to enter Western Australia without having to quarantine for 14 days.
Queensland will transition to a ‘very low risk’ category from midnight on Monday while Victoria will move to the same category on Friday.
Current restrictions with New South Wales, which require arrivals to quarantine and get tested for COVID-19, will remain in place until the state records more than 28 days of no transmission of the virus in the community.
Coronavirus fragments found
The border announcement comes as viral fragments were found in wastewater collected from Pakenham, Castlemaine and Cowes on Phillip Island.
The samples were taken on January 27 and health authorities are urging anyone who lives in those areas or who visited from January 25 to January 27 to get tested even if they have the mildest symptoms. The traces of COVID-19 could be from someone who is infectious or a person who has recovered and who is continuing to shed the virus.
On Friday, viral fragments were also discovered in Gisborne in the Macedon Ranges, Hamilton in the state’s south-west and Leongatha in South Gippsland as the government extended the state of emergency for the 12th time since last March.
“The detection of viral fragments was unexpected given there had been no confirmed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) in these communities at the time but it can take several weeks for someone to stop shedding the virus,” said the Department of Health and Human Services.
The department is also urging anyone who lives in or has visited Gisborne from January 24 to 26 to get tested, no matter how mild their symptoms. The same applies for people who were in Hamilton between January 25 and January 27.
with Broede Carmody
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Paul is a Victorian political reporter for The Age.
Ashleigh McMillan is a breaking news reporter at The Age. Got a story? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org