Health authorities confirmed Saturday that two positive COVID-19 cases emerged from a charter flight from Los Angeles carrying tennis players, coaches and officials to Melbourne ahead of the Australian Open.
The cases involved an aircrew member and a passenger who was not a player.
But the positive tests will force all passengers from that flight into a strictly-enforced 14-day hotel quarantine without the ability to leave their hotel rooms — and for the players not to be able to practice.
“An aircrew member and Australian Open participant who is not a player have been transferred to a health hotel following positive test results for coronavirus (COVID-19),” Victoria state’s health department said in a statement.
“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.”
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley issued a statement saying the 24 players who were on that flight will not be able to leave their hotels rooms for 14 days and until they are medically cleared. The Australian Open is scheduled to start Feb. 8
“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. “Our thoughts are with the two people who tested positive on the flight and we wish them well for their recovery.”
Kei Nishikori, the 2014 U.S. Open runner-up who tested negative for COVID-19 after having two positive tests, and two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka were reported by local media to be among a group of players who arrived on the flight from LAX.
Melbourne’s Herald Sun newspaper reported earlier that an email was sent to all players and officials who were aboard the flight stating that they would no longer be able to leave their quarantine hotel to train. That would mean the only workouts they’d be able to have would be on an exercise bike left in the rooms of all of the players.
Other players will be allowed to train under strict conditions and with supervision for up to five hours a day.
The Herald Sun quoted from the email sent to passengers on the flight.
“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 period,” the email said. “We know this is not how you imagined your preparations for the AO would start but our entire team is here to support and do everything we can to get you through this.”
Players and officials were supposed to have received a negative COVID-19 tests before they boarded their flights. The people who tested positive on arrival have not been publicly identified.
There was also some early controversy when it was revealed that top 30-ranked player Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine, who was provisionally suspended for failing an out-of-competition doping test on Jan. 8, flew to Australia and was also among those players in quarantine.
The International Tennis Federation said 20-year-old Yastremska tested positive for mesterolone metabolite, a prohibited substance that can be used to boost testosterone.
However, the ITF on Friday said Yastremska still has the right to have her provisional suspension lifted, and that if it was, she would be able to compete at Melbourne Park. The only way that could occur is if Yastremska began her 14-day quarantine this week.
Azarenka, who won the tournament in 2012 and 2013, tweeted Friday: “Made it to Melbourne! Thank you everyone so much for making it happen. I can only imagine how many hours of work and compromise it took for us to be here! Thank you.”
She included what appeared to be a selfie next to a window with downtown city views. Azarenka has not tweeted again since.
The 15 charter flights and the early arrivals are all part of Tennis Australia’s attempt to have the tournament happen despite a general ban on international arrivals into the country.
Australia has done a good job of containing the coronavirus, with 909 deaths nationally. Victoria state, which has as its capital Melbourne, accounted for 810 of those during a deadly second wave three months ago which resulted in overnight curfews and lockdowns for the city.
Five-time finalist Andy Murray’s status for the tournament was put in doubt after he tested positive for COVID-19 only days before his planned flight to Melbourne. The tournament says that the three-time Grand Slam champion, who was given a wild card for Melbourne, is isolating at home in Britain.
Also Americans Madison Keys and Tennys Sandgren returned positive tests, but Sandgren was given permission to fly.
Sandgren originally tested positive in November, and Victorian state health authorities in Australia determined he was no longer contagious though still shedding viral particles.
The charter flights to Australia were restricted to 25% capacity, and arrived over a 36-hour period ending early Saturday.
Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams are among a group of players involved in an exhibition event in Adelaide, South Australia state, on Jan. 29. Those players flew straight to Adelaide to begin their hotel quarantine period.