Australian Open players locked down as two test positive for Covid-19 after flight from US

By Matilda Boseley and AAP

Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka is believed to be among a group of players who will be confined to their hotel rooms for the next 14 days after two people on the charter flight QR7493 from Los Angeles tested positive to Covid-19 on arrival in Melbourne.

A leaked email from Tennis Australia, which was sent to all players and officials who were aboard the flight and was posted on social media by Mexican world No 155 Santiago González, said players on the flight must isolate in their rooms for two weeks. This means they have no ability to train in the vital days leading up to the competition.

The email read: “Unfortunately we have been informed by the health authorities that two people on your flight from LAX that arrived at 5:15am on Friday 15 January have returned positive COVID-19 PCR tests on arrival to Melbourne.

“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.

Matilda Boseley (@MatildaBoseley)

A flight load of tennis players travelling from LAX to Melbourne for the Australian Open are unable to train for two weeks and will be confined to their rooms after two people on the flight tested positive to COVID-19 on arrival. Player Santiago González posted this. @GuardianAus pic.twitter.com/oC3yLBPmgs

January 16, 2021

“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.”

Under original guidelines the players were permitted to leave their hotels for up to five hours to train.

A spokesman for Covid-19 Quarantine Victoria, the organisation in charge of quarantine, confirmed it was an aircrew member and member of a player’s support team that contracted the virus.

“An aircrew member and Australian Open participant who is not a player have been transferred to a health hotel following positive test results,” he said.

“The passenger tested negative to his pre-departure test … 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.

“Players are being supported to access equipment for their hotel rooms to help them maintain their fitness during this time.”

Guardian Australia understands that only one of these two cases was counted in Victoria’s Saturday’s Covid-19 numbers, and the other will be included in Sunday’s. Both are considered “overseas acquired cases” and will not break the state’s 10-day streak of no community transmission.

As well as Azarenka, who won the title in 2012 and 2013, American Sloane Stephens and Japanese star Kei Nishikori were also on the flight. Nishikori had Covid in August.

All passengers were required to return negative tests within 72 hours of departure.

The flight with the two positive cases was the same one that US player Tennys Sandgren tweeted he had been allowed to board despite returning a positive test.

It was later clarified Sandgren had contracted the virus in November, and was not considered to be at risk of transmitting the virus. At the time a spokesman for the Victorian quarantine program said it was common among people who had tested positive and then recovered to “shed viral fragments for some time”, which could “trigger another positive result”.

Sandgren is not one of the two cases announced on Saturday.

New York Times reporter Karen Crouse was on board the flight but was already in hard lockdown, without the player training exemption.

“Two positive COVID tests on the LA charter,” she tweeted. “I feel terrible for all the players aboard who now won’t be allowed to practise for the next two weeks except on the exercise bikes the Australian Open delivered to their rooms.”

She called for the names of those who tested positive to be made public and said she would reveal any change to her results.

Tennis Australia has been contacted for comment.