As the rumblings continue in Melbourne, 10 people have now tested positive for coronavirus, according to the authorities, after 3 new cases were reported on Wednesday, one of which is a player who has been in ‘hard lockdown’.
We are looked at with a magnifying glass, for sure, to make sure that no-one steps out of line. Katie Boulter
The second is related to another player, while the third is a support person with the player.
Meanwhile, Tennis Australia Chief Executive Craig Tiley has said that the safety of the Victorian community will not be compromised, but added the body was walking a ‘tightrope’.
“I do understand the players, this is a new experience for them and I don’t think anyone expected to know what the 14 days was like and they are adapting to it,” Tiley told ABC News Breakfast. “At the beginning, it was pretty challenging with their adaptation.
“It’s got a lot better, I think the majority of the players understand and accept it and there is a minority struggling with it but we are going to do whatever we can to make it better for them.”
Unfortunately, it is the critics who have received the most publicity despite the many players who have accepted the restrictions without complaint and appreciate how their situation looks to locals, who endured the strictest lockdown in the world to reduce community cases to zero.
Australian authorities say mandatory hotel quarantine for people arriving for the Australian Open is essential to stop COVID-19, as the country recorded another day with no new locally acquired cases on Tuesday.
Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva has been an enduring critic of the conditions to the extent of even filming a mouse in her room which she has, bizarrely, been accused of feeding, and has gone viral.
Undergoing 14 days lockdown in Melbourne, the World No 28 was one of the first to slam Tennis Australia for not informing players they were at risk of a hard lockdown should a passenger on their charter flight test positive to Covid-19, and has likened her Melbourne hotel to a prison.
Her latest complaint posted on social media said ‘We need fresh air to breathe’, adding that she needed 10 minutes a day outside or windows that opened.
“In jail, at least you can breathe fresh air two times a day,” she added.
The 26-year-old was moved from her initial room, which had a mouse, but says her replacement room has even more.
“It’s actually a lot of them, not 1 in my room now!,” Putintseva tweeted. “Different room same story – wanted to go to sleep but noooope!”
Putintseva’s request for another room change was rejected by the hotel because it is full, which she described as ‘a joke’.
A three-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist, Putintseva garnered little sympathy from Victoria’s police minister Lisa Neville, who accused her of feeding the rodent, adding that cleaners were unable to service the rooms because of the protocols.
“We’ve had the hotel pest controlled this week and I think there may have been some feeding going on of the mouse,” Neville said on Wednesday.
“We’re doing everything we can to make sure these rooms don’t have mice … I’d encourage them to minimise interaction with the mice and we will keep doing pest control if we need to.”
Sympathy must surely go to Tiley, who has undertaken countless interviews and conference calls in an attempt to keep the AO’s head above water.
In his latest Zoom interview on Tuesday, reported by The Australian, he admitted it had been ‘a challenging few days’ and conceded that the locked-down 72 will be at a disadvantage from lack of court time.
“I’m not too sure what the extent of the [dis]advantage will be—we’ll have to wait and see…” he said. “I used to coach and I know for high-performing athletes, getting prepared takes a couple of weeks at least and longer to get to the maximum preparedness.
“There has been a lot going on. It has felt like we have had one year in five days… If you look back over the past five days, I don’t think any of us had grasped the difficulty we would have in managing such a mammoth task and just delivering this.”
Not all players are enduring hard lockdown and many are appreciative of the efforts being made by TA to stage the AO and its leading warm-up events.
Britain’s Katie Boulter, who is not among the 72 players confined to their rooms for 14 days after passengers on 3 charter flights to Melbourne tested positive for Covid-19, told BBC Radio 5 Live that she feels privileged to be able to play in the AO during the pandemic.
Following four days of isolation in her hotel room, the 24-year-old is now allowed out for 5 hours a day, but says strict measures remain in place.
“We are looked at with a magnifying glass, for sure, to make sure that no-one steps out of line.”
Meanwhile, TA has been forced to backtrack on comments made by Tiley to radio station 3AW on Wednesday morning that the state government was contributing to the estimated $40m quarantine costs.
“That’s still to be determined because we’re still in the middle of that,” Tiley said. “Probably the end of next week or the week after we’ll know exactly.”
The comments prompted a sharp rebuke from Neville, who insists TA, not taxpayers, will be footing the bill for those quarantining for the AO.
“Hotel quarantine for the Australian Open is fully funded by Tennis Australia, I’ve triple confirmed that again today,” Neville said. “I want to be really clear about this.”
Neville added that Australians returning home from overseas have to pay for their own quarantine, so it was only appropriate that players do the same.
In a statement issued late on Wednesday afternoon TA said: “Tennis Australia is funding the AO [Australian Open] quarantine program.
“The Victorian government support relates to ongoing discussions about funding for an extension to the agreement to host the AO in Melbourne and a range of other assets to help promote the city and the state, domestically and internationally.”