MELBOURNE: One case of Covid-19 among those in quarantine ahead of the Australian Open has been reclassified, local health officials said on Sunday, leaving nine active cases in the group of players and support staff isolating in Melbourne hotels.

Health officials previously said they were investigating some positive tests for evidence of “viral shedding”, where people who have had the virus continue to shed non-infectious remnants after they have recovered.

Covid-19 Quarantine Victoria also said in a statement that the one case of the virus acquired overseas reported on Sunday was not connected to the tennis Grand Slam.

Most of the 970 people in the Australian Open quarantine hotels have entered their second week of the 14-day isolation period with the first arrivals due to be freed from lockdown on Friday.

While most have been allowed out to train for five hours a day, 72 have been confined to their rooms after the positive cases on the charter flights that brought them to Australia.

Four players were among the cases initially reported as being associated with the tennis but only Spain’s Paula Badosa has confirmed that she tested positive. There was bad news for another player in quarantine early on Sunday when the International Tennis Federation denied Ukraine’s Dayana Yastremska’s application to have her provisional suspension for a doping violation set aside.

The organisers announced on Sunday a new women’s competition from February 3-7 to aid the preparations of players in hard lockdown.

“These changes to the lead-in events have been made to give the 72 players a little bit of extra time to help them prepare,” tournament director Craig Tiley said in a statement. “We also will prioritise them for things like practice sessions, gym and ice baths.”

The Chief Executive of the women’s WTA Tour, Steve Simon, welcomed the revamped build-up.

“This revised schedule comprised of three WTA 500 events ... will allow for our athletes coming out of the respected quarantine period to properly focus on their preparation in a return to competition,” Simon said.

Two ATP men’s tournaments will be pushed back 24 hours to start on February 1 and the ATP Cup will get underway a day later.

WTA players in hard quarantine include former Australian Open champions Victoria Azarenka and Angelique Kerber as well as 2019 US Open winner Bianca Andreescu.

Players on the flights with no cases have been allowed out of hotel quarantine for five hours a day to train in a strict bio-security bubble.

Many participants, including men’s world number one Novak Djokovic — who was not in the full-quarantine group — have taken issue with the quarantine arrangements.

The complaints have drawn an unsympathetic reaction in Australia, with many online defending the strict isolation measures as an essential part of the country’s success in containing the virus.

Others have baulked at the athletes’ requests for eased restrictions, framing them as spoilt and insensitive to host city Melbourne, which only came out of a harsh four-month lockdown in October.

Published in Dawn, January 25th, 2021

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