Melbourne to lift lockdown, allow fans at Australian Open

MELBOURNE: Stay-at-home orders will be lifted for 6 million residents of Victoria, Australia’s second-most populous state, on Wednesday (Feb 17), as officials determine the number of fans to let back in for the Australian Open tennis tournament.

A snap five-day lockdown had been ordered for Victoria state on Friday after a small outbreak of the more infectious UK coronavirus variant prompted fears that Australia’s successful battle to contain the pandemic could be undone.

State Premier Daniel Andrews said most mobility restrictions will be lifted at midnight, but masks will remain mandatory both indoors and outdoors when social distancing rules cannot be followed.

“In a broader sense, we are safe and open,” Andrews said in a televised media conference, but cautioned the latest outbreak had not yet been fully contained.

The lifting of restrictions will allow at least some spectators at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, where players have competed in empty stadiums during the lockdown.

“There will be meetings early this afternoon … where we will go through what is a safe number and will get that decision made as soon as possible,” Andrews said.

The virus cluster linked to a hotel quarantining travellers returned from overseas has grown to 19 people, but there were no new cases reported on Wednesday.

READ: Australia, New Zealand receive COVID-19 vaccines, inoculations to start

Under the pre-lockdown agreement with the Victoria government, crowds at the Australian Open would have been limited to 25,000 for each day for the final four days but Andrews said that figure might be reduced further.

Officials had allowed 30,000 spectators for each of the first eight days of the event – about half the normal attendance.

Tournament organisers will be desperate to get fans through the gates after spending a huge amount of money to get the tournament up and running, including about A$40 million (US$31.01 million) on putting players through 14 days of quarantine.

Tickets went on sale for Thursday’s matches, but there was no formal announcement from organisers.

Andrews had said numbers at large public events would be capped, but further examination of organiser plans to keep attendees safe was required.

“They will be on a case-by-case basis and it is not a simple process we go through quite an exhaustive process to make sure that those events are viable and can happen but are safe,” he said.

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