Players were supposed to have gym access as well as five hours of isolated daily practice outside under an agreement reached with the Victorian government ahead of the tournament.
But 72 players and support staffers were stripped of those conditions and put into a hard lockdown with no time outside their rooms, because their flights to Melbourne contained passengers who later tested positive to the virus.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews hinted some of those players may soon have their restrictions eased, allowing them to train for five hours a day like the other quarantining competitors, due to further assessment of the samples taken from those passengers who had tested positive for Covid.
Australian Open players and staff stuck in hard quarantine may have their restrictions eased early as coronavirus cases on their flights are reclassified. Pictured: Belinda Bencic trains in quarantine
The premier said some of the cases may be reclassified as non-infectious shedding, meaning the virus is still in a person’s system but they can’t pass it on.
If so, all those players and coaches who had been on those flights would then be allowed to complete their quarantine with the five hours of outdoor practice per day.
‘If you’ve got say 30 people who are deemed a close contact because they’ve been on a plane with a case, and the case is no longer an active case but a historic shedding, well that would release those people from that hard lockdown,’ he said.
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton warned the virus could still be incubating in some of the 1,200 people who have arrived in Melbourne for the tennis tournament.
Infections have been linked to three charter flights from Abu Dhabi, Doha and Los Angeles.
Everyone entering Australia since March 20, Australian citizens or those with special exemptions, has been required to spend two weeks in hotel quarantine – a system celebrated for keeping the nation’s Covid cases low.
Australian Open boss Craig Tiley said the lockdown for some players meant preparations for the Grand Slam starting on February 8 was ‘not an even playing field’.
Players in lockdown are prevented from training while another group of competitors, including world No.1 Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, are in Adelaide for a pre-tournament where restrictions don’t prevent them practising.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said three of the four new Covid-19 cases reported in hotel quarantine on Tuesday are connected to the Grand Slam – taking the total number of infections linked to the tournament to nine
An unidentified tennis player looks out from a tennis hotel for a training session in Melbourne on Monday
Stars including Victoria Azarenka, Sloane Stephens, Kei Nishikori and Angelique Kerber are among those plunged into hard lockdown who now have a big disadvantage compared with competitors who can train.
Swiss world No. 12 Belinda Bencic has said the rule is unfair and French player Alize Cornet called the situation ‘insane’.
Bencic – who has shared video online of her practicing in a tiny hotel room – said imposing quarantine on some players while others were free to train and prepare properly was unfair.
‘We are not complaining to be in quarantine. We are complaining because of unequal practice/playing conditions before quite important tournaments,’ she said.
‘We made our decision to come here from rules that were sent to us. Then we arrived and received an information/rule book with more/new rules that we did not know about.’
Champion Novak Djokovic of Serbia gestures from his hotel balcony in Adelaide on Monday
Tennis players and officials arrive on a charter flight in Melbourne on January 14
‘Soon, half of the players from the AO will actually have to isolate,’ Cornet wrote in a since-deleted tweet.
‘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.’
Djokovic appealed to Australian Open organisers to ease restrictions in a wishlist reported on Monday, including a request to shift as many players as possible in Melbourne to private residences with tennis courts.
Djokovic’s requests were refused by Victorian hierarchy.
‘In the case of Novak, he wrote a note, these weren’t demands, they were suggestions,’ Mr Tiley said.
‘But he too is understanding what two weeks of lockdown means … every player coming down knew that if they were going to be close contacts or test positive that these were going to be the conditions.’
Romanian tennis player Simona Halep departs training at Memorial Drive in Adelaide on Sunday
Australian Open competitors in quarantine are allowed to train up to five hours a day but those in hard lockdown are not allowed to leave their hotel room for 14 days