Australian Open tennis players who have been forced into stricter quarantine have said they were misled about the rules for the tournament, were promised they would be allowed to train, and are risking injury ahead of the competition.
On Saturday 47 players and 143 travellers were confined to their rooms for 14 days after one flight attendant and two passengers who were not players tested positive for Covid-19 across two charter planes coming into Melbourne.
On Sunday the federal health minister, Greg Hunt, backed the decision to go ahead with the tournament, and said the Victorian state government had “taken appropriate steps” in applying stricter rules.
Although no players have tested positive, all those on board the affected flights were placed under stricter isolation rules, which do not allow them to practise or train for 14 days.
All international arrivals to Australia, including returning Australians, have to spend 14 days in hotel quarantine, but initially tennis players competing in the Open were allowed to leave their rooms for five hours a day to practise and train.
French player Alize Cornet said confining players to their rooms for 14 days without training, before a major tournament, would lead to injury.
Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva said “no one told us” whole planeloads of players could be affected, and said she might not have travelled to Melbourne if she had known.
Cornet also said organisers had promised players this situation would not eventuate.
“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,” she wrote on Twitter. “Not that the whole plane had to.”
Cornet was not on any of the affected flights and is free to train, but said the rules would harm her fellow players.
In a series of tweets, she said she was “grateful” and “privileged” to be allowed into Melbourne when Australians overseas or in other states were not, and had no issues with 14 days in quarantine.
“But we are not asking the Victorian residents to play a professional sport afterward,” she said. “The risks of injury after a two-week break is huge. Maybe I’m too focused on my side of the story, but that’s also why we are here for.”
Romanian player Sorana Cirstea wrote on Twitter: “I have no issues to stay 14 days in the room watching Netflix. Believe me this is a dream come true, holiday even.
“What we cant do is COMPETE after we have stayed 14 days on a couch. This is the issue, not the quarantine rule.”
The 47 affected players include two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, 2016 Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber, Sloane Stephens and Kei Nishikori.
Cornet also predicted that the strictness of the rules meant “half of the players” in the tournament would eventually have to isolate, and said it was “insane”, in a now-deleted tweet.
“Weeks and weeks of practise and hard work going to waste for one person positive to Covid in a 3/4 empty plane,” she said. “Sorry but this is insane.”
More than 1,200 players, their coaching staff and tournament officials are due to arrive in Melbourne for the Australian Open, which begins on 8 February.
Other players competing in the tournament – including top seeds Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams – are quarantining in Adelaide, in South Australia, rather than Melbourne, and have not been affected.
On Sunday, Hunt told reporters he thought the Victorian government’s quarantine rules were appropriate.
“We respect the steps they’re taking and also the way that they’ve responded,” he said. “We think that that’s appropriate.
“With regards to the Australian Open, we respect not only the right, but also the processes of particular states to screen, to monitor and to conduct events – whether it’s the Melbourne Test, the Sydney Test, the Brisbane Test and the Adelaide Test, whether it is the current event, which the Victorian government has been planning. And we think that they have taken appropriate steps.”
But he said the federal government’s priority had been to bring stranded Australians home. Despite the recent reduction in flight arrival caps, and the decision by Emirates to suspend flights to Australia, he pointed to the government’s announcement on Saturday of 20 additional facilitated flights for returning Australians.