MELBOURNE, Australia -- The 2021 Australian Open already was looking considerably different from previous years' tournaments, but Friday's announcement of a snap five-day state lockdown of Victoria has thrown things into further chaos.
Players will once again have to get used to no crowds, with spectators locked out of Melbourne Park until at least Thursday, Feb. 18, in order to comply with the state's Stage 4 restrictions.
So what exactly is happening in Melbourne and what does this mean for the first Grand Slam of the year? Here's an attempt to clear things up a bit.
What is the current COVID-19 situation in Victoria?
As of Sunday, Victoria has 21 active cases of COVID-19. Three new cases were discovered in the 24 hours to midnight Saturday night -- two in the community and one in the hotel quarantine system. In the 24 hours to midnight Friday night, 21,457 tests were conducted across the state.
Authorities have updated a number of 'high risk' locations where possible transmission could have occurred; the government has told those who have visited these "Tier 1" locations to immediately get tested and then self isolate at home for 14 days.
The two latest community cases have been linked to a function center in the northern suburb of Coburg, where a first case was detected on Saturday. That person was linked to the Melbourne Airport Holiday Inn cluster -- which currently stands at 16 infections. The hotel was used as a hotel quarantine location for returning overseas arrivals, but is no longer used as such after the virus escaped and made its way into the community last week.
What are the latest restrictions in Victoria?
On Friday, Victoria's state government mandated a "circuit-breaker" five-day lockdown and reintroduced Stage 4 restrictions for the entire state. It means that from Saturday, Victorians (and all visitors to the state) are permitted to leave their residence only for one of four reasons: shopping for necessary goods and services, care and caregiving, exercise and essential work.
Necessary goods and services include supermarkets and other food retailers, post offices, banks, pharmacies and liquor stores. Other establishments, including gyms, swimming pools and sporting clubs, have been forced to close for the duration of the lockdown.
Except for attending essential work and giving care, Victorians also are not allowed to leave a 5-kilometer radius around their homes, while facemasks must be worn at all times -- except when undertaking strenuous exercise such as running. A full list of the restrictions can be found here.
Do players have to abide by the latest restrictions?
Yes, but under the restrictions, they are defined as "essential workers" and are allowed to attend their place of work -- in this case, Melbourne Park. However, once they have left the precinct, they must abide by the same rules as everyone in Victoria, including leaving their residence for just the four essential reasons. Given practice is part of their job, they will be allowed to practice on the courts at Melbourne Park when they're not playing. Players are required to wear masks while both indoors and outdoors, except when exercising.
During their initial 14-day quarantine, those who weren't in hard lockdown were allowed out to practice for five hours per day, but this limit is not in place for the current restrictions.
While the current five-day lockdown is in place, Rod Laver Arena's 22 suites will play host to the top seeds still in the tournament. The players will be able to use them as their locker rooms and resting area as a way to assist with social distancing around Melbourne Park. According to Tennis Australia, the top 11 seeds from the men's and women's draws still in the tournament will each be assigned a suite.
Who is still allowed at Melbourne Park?
The Melbourne Park grounds will look pretty bare over the weekend and into the second week of the tournament with fans unable to enter. Still, aside from the players and coaches, there are a few other people who might be seen roaming the grounds.
"Those essential to the delivery of the event will be on site," tournament director Craig Tiley said on Friday afternoon.
This means umpires and ball kids will continue their roles as normal. Security is also permitted on site, along with members of the media, including photographers, broadcasters and written press.
What happens to fans who had tickets for Days 6 to 10?
While it might be disappointing that fans won't be able to attend the Australian Open, they won't be left out of pocket. Tennis Australia will be offering full refunds to every ticketed fan from Saturday through next Wednesday, with an announcement on how they can apply for refunds expected imminently. Details will be shared once they are known.
Are those who were forced to leave Rod Laver Arena on Friday night eligible for a refund?
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic said he had "never seen anything like it," when Rod Laver Arena fans were asked to leave the venue at 11:30 p.m. local time on Friday. With the curfew imminent, play was suspended for 15 minutes as spectators were sent home by security. It meant Djokovic and American Taylor Fritz had to play out their deciding fifth set in an empty stadium, while fans who had to leave were unable to witness what was to be an epic finish.
While unconfirmed, Tennis Australia also is likely to refund any purchased tickets to Friday night's session on Rod Laver Arena, despite fans being able to watch the previous 5½ hours of play.