Australian Open | COVID is not going away…

The fact that COVID-19 is still around was pushed home when Belgian Van Uytvanck tested positive for the virus after playing at the Australian Open, one of several players to pick up the Omicron variant of the Coronavirus in Melbourne.

I believe in science. I believe in getting vaccinated. That’s what I did for myself. As an entity, as an association of WTA, that is travelling globally, we still have to respect countries, different countries, different mandates, different legalities of the country. Victoria Azarenka

“My exit test in Melbourne to go back to Belgium came back positive,” she said on social media a few days ago. “I’m isolating and following all of the requirements.”

Van Uytvanck, who was eliminated in the second round of the singles by China’s Wang Qiang on Wednesday, partnered Clara Tauson to a 3-set loss in the opening round of the women’s doubles on Thursday on Court 14 at Melbourne Park, and the Dane then played Danielle Collins in the singles on Saturday.

“I have very mild symptoms and looking forward to being back stronger,” added the Belgian.

While those who are vaccinated are protected from getting COVID badly, those who are not run the risk of being very ill should they pick the virus up.


Many spectators at the Australian Open have abandoned their masks despite being required to do so as a condition of entry

© Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Feelings are running high after an anti-mask spectator was ejected from Melbourne Park last week, while, in another incident, a fight broke out between fans over the wearing of masks.

The brawl started between a fan wearing a mask and two others, unmasked, although there are no reports as to how this began, or who instigated it.

AO organisers require all attendees to wear masks unless eating or drinking, and everyone over the age of 12 must be fully-vaccinated against COVID-19, or have a valid medical exception, showing a digital medical certificate for entry.

It was not the only issue off-court, it has been revealed, after the anti-mask spectator was ejected from the Rod Laver Arena during the all-German match between 3rd seed Alexander Zverev and Daniel Altmaier.

The fan started chanting ‘masks don’t work’ before being led out by police officers.

He had previously been holding up a sign protesting the mask mandate even when he was asked to refrain from doing so.

After his match, Zverev said that more players probably have COVID-19 as they are not being tested regularly enough.

“We are allowed to go outside to eat, allowed to do whatever we want, so I think it’s natural that more people get COVID,” Zverev told reporters after dispatching Australia’s John Millman in straight sets in the second round. “I think quite a few players had it when they arrived.

“Quite a few players, I think, have it now.

“We’re not getting tested, so I think if we would get tested there would be probably more positives than there are now, in a way.”

Australia’s ABC News reported that players must conduct daily rapid antigen tests by themselves, while supervised tests are conducted on the day they arrive, and between days 5 and 7 of their stay.

Bernard Tomic criticised the COVID-19 testing protocols during the qualifying competition: “I can’t believe nobody is getting tested.

“They’re allowing players to come onto the court with rapid tests in their room … No official PCR testing.”

The Australian tested positive two days later, while Frenchman Ugo Humbert said on Wednesday last week that he, too, had tested positive for the Coronavirus, a day after his first round defeat by compatriot Richard Gasquet, forcing him to isolate for a week in Australia.

Zverev said he was taking all precautions and staying in his own bubble to avoid infection as the 24-year-old Olympic champion sought his maiden Grand Slam title.

“I’m here to play the tournament, and I understand that there is a lot of cases in Melbourne, there is a lot of cases in Australia all around,” he said.

“So I don’t do much outside, I haven’t been to any restaurants yet, I haven’t been out.

“I haven’t been anywhere but the hotel room and the courts, so I’m kind of doing a bubble for myself, simply because I don’t want to take any risks, and I want to give myself the best chance possible to do well here.”

Zverev was upset in the 4th round on Sunday by Canada’s Denis Shapovalov.


Novak Djokovic being escorted to his flight out of Melbourne after his deportation was confirmed

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Meanwhile the debate continues, sparked by the recent Novak Djokovic visa debacle that resulted in the Serb’s deportation from Australia, with many calling for the ATP and WTA Tours to make it mandatory for all players and staff to get vaccinated, unless there are valid medical reasons for being unable to do so, but there are legal considerations, which are currently being taken under advisement.

Former World No 1 and WTA Player Council member Victoria Azarenka spoke out on the issues last week, saying she believed getting vaccinated was the socially responsible thing to do, and that the WTA was right to encourage it, but there were legalities surrounding a mandate, however useful it might be.

“I believe in science. I believe in getting vaccinated. That’s what I did for myself,” she told reporters after reaching the 3rd round of the Australian Open. “As an entity, as an association of WTA, that is travelling globally, we still have to respect countries, different countries, different mandates, different legalities of the country.

“Some countries will not allow mandates. I think to impose something legally on the WTA Tour can be a challenge. I think that’s something that we are facing.”

Djokovic and a handful of other unvaccinated players and officials arrived in Australia holding medical exemptions that supposedly allowed them to enter the country without being vaccinated.

Some visas were subsequently rescinded and the individuals sent home, which highlighted a dis-connect between Tennis Australia, with its independent panels assessing applications and offering exemptions, and the Australian national and state authorities, who then intervened.

Azarenka said she thought the whole affair could have been prevented by having much clearer rules in place.

“I don’t believe there was anybody who looked good in any case,” she said. “That became a bit of a circus.

“I think there should be a really hard look on this situation moving forward. I think as soon as there is a grey area in the rules, that gives a bit too much questions, and situations like this happen.

“On certain things I think a black-and-white approach is necessary.”

Countries are changing their entry requirements as COVID cases fluctuate around the world but, currently, the USA and France are amongst those that require visitors entering their borders to be fully vaccinated, which means that Indian Wells, Miami and the French Open may well be inaccessible to some players.

There are now calls for world governments and tournament organisers, particularly at the Grand Slams and other large tournaments, to move quickly to make their rules crystal clear.

According to reports which emerged on Monday, Djokovic looks set to be able to play Roland Garros after French officials apparently approved a new rule to allow those who have tested positive for Covid in the last six months, which could allow the Serbian, who had reportedly had the virus in December, to receive an exemption for the tournament, which begins on 22 May.

This is how the debacle in Australia started.




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