Player fined for Aus Open breach as fourth case confirmed

 

Another person who arrived in Melbourne for the Australian Open has tested positive to COVID-19, bringing the total number to four as the tournament's crisis deepens.

The positive case was returned by a member of a broadcast team and travelled from LA.

After the Herald Sun revealed players faced heavy fines if they breached quarantine measures, Corrections Victoria confirmed it had fined a player and a staff member after "challenging behaviours".

"(The player) opened his door to try and have a conversation with his training mates down the hallway ... he got a fine," Corrections Victoria commissioner Emma Cassar said.

"You can pick up the phone and use that instead of putting yourself and other people at risk.

"The other (fine) was another gentleman who shouted UberEats to some other people on the floor and was praising himself for his great efforts, and opened his door to do so. It is very low level, but they are dangerous acts that we cannot tolerate.

"We take all breaches really seriously. For the players, that is a fine of up to $20,000, a warning from the police.

"But what we have also considered today is for those who are persistently breaching or not willing to remain in their rooms, our other option would be to transfer people to the complex care hotel, where there is a member of Victoria Police outside the door."

Cassar said all positive cases would be transferred to the Holiday Inn "health hotel".

The latest case follows revelations a tennis coach on a second Australian Open charter flight - this one from Abu Dhabi - had tested positive to COVID-19 on arrival in Melbourne.

Despite public backlash, a defiant tournament boss Craig Tiley moved to reassure the public and said there were no plans at this stage to cancel the tournament.

2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu's coach, Sylvain Bruneau, has confirmed he was the positive case on the second flight in a statement.

"I am deeply sorry to share that I have just tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival here in Melbourne, after travelling from Abu Dhabi on flight EY8004," Bruneau said.

"I have followed all the safety protocols and procedures, including testing negative within 72 hours before the flight departure and felt perfectly fine when I boarded the plane.

"I also respected and followed all COVID protocols and guidelines while in the Middle East. I have no idea how I might have contracted this virus.

Bianca Andreescu’s coach Sylvain Bruneau was the source of the COVID positive test. Picture: Getty Images
Bianca Andreescu’s coach Sylvain Bruneau was the source of the COVID positive test. Picture: Getty Images

"I am extremely saddened and sorry for the consequences now on everyone's shoulders sharing my flight. The rest of my team is negative and I sincerely hope that any further disruption is kept to a minimum."

There are no other known positive tests from the flight, but routine testing will continue for passengers across the next fortnight.

Ukrainian player Marta Kostyuk was on board the flight and shared the news with her Instagram followers.

It is also understood Andreescu, Angelique Kerber, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Ons Jabeur, Belinda Bencic and Maria Sakkari were on board.

Bruneau arrived in Melbourne at 8.20am on Friday from Abu Dhabi, alongside other Australian Open players, support staff and attendees.

He tested negative in his pre-departure test.

All remaining 63 passengers on the flight were designated close contacts, and any players and support staff won't be able to train and must complete a mandatory 14-day quarantine period.

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

However, it's understood there isn't an exercise bike in every room as other players who tried to leave their quarantine hotel rooms were warned if it happened again they would be placed in hard lockdown and fined.

Medical officers are in the process of identifying whether the positive cases are first-time positives or they are just "viral shedding" and no longer infectious, as in American Tennys Sandgren's situation.

Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley said organisers were going to consider what to do with players' preparation to try to work out what was "fair" for everyone.

He also revealed TA received a warning from the Department of Justice and Community Safety Victoria about players trying to leave their room.

Players will be fined and placed in hard quarantine if that continues to happen, Tiley said.

Victorian Minister Lily D'Ambrosio said there were seven overall COVID-19 cases overnight in the state's hotel quarantine.

Of those, two were connected to the Australian Open.

Daily testing will continue for players in quarantine. Picture: NCA NewsWire / David Geraghty.
Daily testing will continue for players in quarantine. Picture: NCA NewsWire / David Geraghty.

Both were foreshadowed on Saturday and are non-playing staff.

The remaining cases were return travellers and one flight crew member not associated with the tournament.

D'Ambrosio addressed controversy surrounding the positive results, with any players, officials and other passengers on board the flight considered close contacts and required to complete 14-days in mandatory quarantine.

"We know that COVID knows no bounds and no boundaries, whether you're a first class tennis player or a spectator in the audience," D'Ambrosio said.

She added that "really clear protocols and really clear rules were set from day one" for anyone flying into Melbourne for the tournament.

"This is about keeping everyone safe," Ms D'Ambrosio said.

"We need to keep to the clear health advice.It's far from ideal but COVID is not ideal... Rules are rules, no matter who you are."

Ms D'Ambrosio said players in quarantine were being made "as comfortable as they can be" with exercise equipment being delivered to their rooms.

The news is another setback in the Open's build-up, which has been dogged by major challenges and is still dealing with significant public backlash about why it is going ahead.

The lead-in events are due to begin in Melbourne on January 31, with the Australian Open slated for a February 8 start.

Players on the other 15 charter flights, which arrived in Melbourne and Adelaide at various intervals from seven international cities, now face a nervous wait to know if anyone they travelled with tested positive.

There are no other known positive tests from the Abu Dhabi flight, but daily testing will continue for passengers across their quarantine period.

Tensions among players have now been heightened, with some beginning to speculate on social media about further possible positive cases.

On Saturday night rumours were circulating that Filip Krajinovic's fitness coach had tested positive after arriving on a flight to Adelaide but no-one was being forced into full lockdown pending blood test results.

"I don't know if it was a real positive or not on the Djokovic/Nadal flight, I am still waiting for mine," said lucky loser entrant Taro Daniel, who is in Melbourne.

A total of 47 players have been forced into lockdown as a result of the Abu Dhabi flight and two passengers returning COVID-19 positive tests on an earlier charter flight from Los Angeles.

Alize Cornet's tweet, which she later deleted.
Alize Cornet's tweet, which she later deleted.

 

French player Alize Cornet - understood to have been on the flight from Abu Dhabi - has suggested players and their entourage were not fully briefed on protocols before they boarded the charter flights.

She has branded the current situation "insane" and claims they were told each plane was divided into small sections that would be quarantined in the event of a positive result.

"Soon, half of the players from the AO will actually have to isolate," she said on Twitter.

"Weeks and weeks of practice and hard work going to waste for one person positive to Covid in a 3/4 empty plane. Sorry but this is insane.

"We are also playing by the rules and doing the 14 days quarantine ourselves, with just 5 hours outside per day, safe and supervised, in order to work and be ready for the AO coming up. I just think that these measures are not made to hold an international tennis event.

"We've been told that the plane would be separated by section of 10 people and that if one person of your section was positive, then you had to isolate. Not that the whole plane had to."

But Ms Cassar stressed quarantined was for the players and public's own good.

"Quarantine is hard and we know that it is a very new and difficult arrangement for them, probably very unusual circumstances to what they are used to," she said.

"This is in place to keep them safe and keep the Victorian community safe, and we make no apologies for that.

"We need to make it clear to the players and their support crews that if they did something, do not come out of the room. And pick up the phone, we are there to help."

Cassar said a full day of training would "absolutely" take place on Monday.

Victoria Azarenka, Sloane Stephens and Kei Nishikori are among those who were aboard the flight from Los Angeles and are now confined to their rooms for 14 days and will not be permitted the five hours of practice time afforded players each day under the tournament's COVID-19 protocols.

There were 79 people on-board the flight from LA and, of the two passengers who tested positive, one is part of the flight crew and the other is a member of a player's entourage.

Confirming the news Australian Open boss Craig Tiley said: "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.

"Our thoughts are with the two people who tested positive on the flight and we wish them well for their recovery."

The two people who tested positive have been removed from player hotels and transferred to a health hotel.

Russian-born Kiwi Artem Sitak, one of the players now confined to his room, said the news was disappointing but everyone knew the risks involved.

"Very disappointing news from Tennis Australia, we are all deemed close contact," he said on Instagram.

"I asked for a bike so hopefully I will get one and stay in shape. Hope to get out on January 29th and head into the ATP 250. it's not great but that's the risk we are all taking. Of course everyone had to have a negative test within 72 hours of flying so it's unfortunate.

"Two weeks in the room, here we go."

Others believed to have been on the flight include: Vasek Pospisil, Lauren Davis' coach Edward "Eddie" Elliott, Guido Pella, Juan Ignacio Londero, Pablo Cuevas, Santiago Gonzalez and Tennys Sandgren.

News of the COVID positives has raised concerns over the safety of hosting the Australian Open in Melbourne have been further raised after all passengers from a specially chartered flight for the tournament were forced into strict quarantine after two people on board tested positive for COVID.

Earlier Saturday, the Herald Sun broke the news after being sent a leaked email from Tennis Australia to all passengers on board flight QR7493 which confirmed the positive results and outlined instructions from the Chief Health Officer that everyone was obliged to isolate.

The leaked email which reveals COVID-19 positive tests.
The leaked email which reveals COVID-19 positive tests.

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.

"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 your through this.

"You will soon be contacted by our medical experts Aspen Medical if you haven't been already.

"They are available 24/7 to support you with all your medical, mental health or wellbeing concerns.

"The most important thing you need to know right now is you are not alone in this and we are here to provide you any extra support you need."

The flight in question is the plane out of Los Angeles which, on Thursday, made headlines after American player Tennys Sandgren tweeted he had been allowed to board despite returning a positive test.

His presence on the flight was cleared by Victorian health authorities and is not believed to be linked to the latest positives.

On the lookout for Oz Open players. People arrive on SkyBus at the Grand Hyatt 123 Collins St, Melbourne. Picture: Tim Carrafa Elena Rybakina
On the lookout for Oz Open players. People arrive on SkyBus at the Grand Hyatt 123 Collins St, Melbourne. Picture: Tim Carrafa Elena Rybakina

Sandgren aside, all passengers were required to present negative tests as a condition of flight.

It is understood the passengers in question recorded positive results after entering Australia.

One passenger is believed to be a player coach, the other is part of the flight crew. Neither is believed to be showing symptoms.

A statement from DHHS said: "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).

"The passenger result came in after midnight Friday night and will be counted in tomorrow's figures. The aircrew member and the passenger have been interviewed and transferred to a health hotel as per normal processes for positive cases.

"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. They left at 7am today.

"Upon arrival to Australia all players are immediately placed in a secure quarantine environment for 14 days under the authority of COVID Quarantine Victoria and will undergo a more rigorous testing schedule than for most returning travellers."

HOW DID 'COVID POSITIVE' STAR BOARD FLIGHT TO MELBOURNE?

Sandgren received special government clearance to travel to Melbourne despite twice testing positive to COVID-19, including as recently as Monday.

The dual Australian Open quarter-finalist posted a frenzy of updates on his Twitter account on Thursday that cast doubt on whether he would be able to leave Los Angeles for Australia.

Sandgren originally believed he wouldn't be able to depart, then thought he would be delayed until Friday, before suddenly tweeting he was on the plane headed for Melbourne.

Tennis Australia was forced to clarify the baffling circumstances, given rules stated that players, support staff and officials must test negative before boarding any of the 15 charter flights.

Anyone travelling to the Australian Open who previously tested positive to the coronavirus, like Sandgren, must provide additional and detailed medical information as proof they are recovered or no longer infectious.

"In the case of Tennys Sandgren, who has self-disclosed that he previously tested positive in late November, his medical file had to be reviewed by Victorian health authorities," TA's statement read.

Tennys Sandgren was granted permission to travel
Tennys Sandgren was granted permission to travel

"Upon completion of that review, he was cleared to fly."

An earlier TA response at the Herald Sun's request stated that "some people who have recovered from COVID-19 and who are non-infectious can continue to shed the virus for several months".

Police Minister Lisa Neville backed the Sandgren decision, tweeting: "No one who is COVID positive for the first time - or could still be infectious - will be allowed in for the Aus Open."

Strict government guidelines demand all international arrivals be tested on landing, before isolating in their hotel - under COVID Quarantine Victoria authority - until they receive another negative result.

They are then tested daily throughout their mandatory 14-day quarantine period, during which they can leave their hotel room to train for a maximum of five hours a day.

There was one more twist on Sandgren's dramatic day, when his charter flight departing LAX airport was forced to briefly return to its gate before leaving for Melbourne.

 

 

Originally published as Leaked email confirms Aus Open stars in lockdown