How Victoria plans to manage the COVID risk at the Australian Open

The Victorian Government says people arriving from overseas in Melbourne as part of the Australian Open tournament will be subject to the “strictest program in the world”.

So how are authorities managing such a huge international event and keeping it COVID-safe?

When does this begin?

The Australian Open will start at Melbourne Park on February 8 and run until February 21.

The first of 15 charter flights bringing roughly 1,200 players, support staff and tennis officials will arrive in Melbourne on Thursday evening, Victorian Police and Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville said.

The entrance to the Pullman hotel at Albert Park, which is fenced with hazard tape.The entrance to the Pullman hotel at Albert Park, which is fenced with hazard tape.
The Pullman at Albert Park is one of three hotels Ms Neville says have been “transformed” to become safe quarantine hotels.(ABC News: Chris Le Page)

All officials will need to spend 14 days in hotel quarantine, like any other international arrival in Australia.

But players and one other person they can nominate for support only need to spend two days in quarantine before they can leave to attend training, as long as they test negative.

Where will everyone be staying?

Three new hotels have been added to Victoria’s hotel quarantine program to accommodate the arrivals.

These are the Grand Hyatt in Melbourne, the View on St Kilda Road, and the Pullman hotel in Albert Park.

Ms Neville said the extra hotels would ensure there was still capacity for returning international travellers in existing quarantine hotels.

Road closure signs block access to the front of The View Hotel, photographed on a sunny Melbourne day.Road closure signs block access to the front of The View Hotel, photographed on a sunny Melbourne day.
Traffic signs were already up at the View Melbourne hotel on Tuesday, as it prepared for its first Australian Open quarantine guests.(ABC News: Chris Le Page)

Do tennis players have to get tested for coronavirus before they come to Melbourne?

Everyone who is travelling to Melbourne for the Australian Open will need to get tested for coronavirus before leaving, Ms Neville said.

Anyone who tests positive before departure will not be able to board the plane.

But if people get positive results back when they’re already in the air they will be taken straight to a health hotel when they land, Ms Neville said.

“They need to test before they fly,” Ms Neville said.

“The intention is try and get negative tests, there may be a handful where there are delays in testing results.

“We won’t stop people getting on the plane, but everyone is taking a risk in doing that, because you may turn out to be positive and spend your time in Melbourne in hotel quarantine and not actually be able to play the tennis.

“Secondly, anyone with you will also be considered a close contact.”

How often will tennis players and officials get tested in Australia?

There are different testing regimes for players and other tennis officials.

Tennis officials who are spending the full 14 days in hotel quarantine will get tested on days three and 11, said Emma Cassar, the state’s Interim Commissioner of COVID-19 Quarantine.

This is in line with other international arrivals.

All players, and their nominated support person, will be tested every single day in hotel quarantine.

All staff working in the program will also be tested every day.

Where will tennis players do their training?

Players and their support people will be allowed to leave their hotel rooms for up to five hours per day to complete training.

Each hotel will have its own dedicated training facility, Ms Neville said.

The entrance to the Grand Hyatt Melbourne.The entrance to the Grand Hyatt Melbourne.
Bubbles will be maintained between the hotels to reduce the risk of a coronavirus outbreak, Ms Neville says.(ABC News: Chris Le Page)

Dedicated training venues have been set up at Melbourne Park, the National Tennis Centre and Albert Reserve.

“There will be no mixing between the hotels,” Ms Neville said.

“There is no mixing between the players and their support person.”

How will training be safe?

Ms Cassar said while tennis players could leave hotel quarantine from day two, there would be a pretty strict regime in place to reduce the risk of COVID-19.

When people leave their designated quarantine hotel to attend training they will be escorted by COVID marshals at all times, Ms Cassar said.

There are different COVID marshals dedicated to each hotel.

A treadmill and an exercise bike are spaced several metres apart in a large underground car park.A treadmill and an exercise bike are spaced several metres apart in a large underground car park.
Tennis players will be able to attend a 90-minute gym session each day.(ABC News: Patrick Rocca)

Then, players will have to make a “one-way movement” through the training centre, sticking to their bubbles.

That will involve 130 minutes with a training partner, 90 minutes in a gym session, a 60-minute nutrition session, then straight back to their hotel, Ms Cassar said.

Public health officials will be monitoring at all times to make sure infection measures, such as wearing masks, are being followed, she said.

Who will be paying for the tennis quarantine program?

Ms Neville said it would be fully funded by Tennis Australia.

Is this actually safe?

Ms Neville said the Chief Health Officer has signed off on “each and every” aspect of the arrangements.

“We have put in place the strongest and strictest rules that apply for tennis across the world,” she said.

‘There are bubbles that are operating in Doha at the moment, but this is the strictest program in the world, in terms of hotel quarantine for our tennis players.”

She said if the public health team said it was unsafe, it would not be going ahead.

How come international tennis players can come to Melbourne when there are Victorians who cannot enter the state?

Ms Neville said the Australian Open quarantine arrangement was a two-week program, and not an ongoing program that would affect incoming flight caps.

She also stressed that the public health team and the Chief Health Officer had signed off on the arrangements.

“It is a two-week program that guarantees the future of the Australian Open for Victoria into the long term,” she said.

“Of course if it was not safe to do so, we would not have done it.”

Colourful weights on a squat cage in an underground car park.Colourful weights on a squat cage in an underground car park.
Players will be allowed to leave their rooms for up to five hours a day for training.(ABC News: Patrick Rocca)

She said authorities had been planning for the event for months.

An update posted by Tennis Australia on December 17 said:

“It has taken eight months of working alongside government authorities, here in Victoria, nationally and interstate, to give us the opportunity to present an Australian Open that will play a major role in both the economic and psychological reinvigoration and rejuvenation of Melbourne and Victoria.”