MELBOURNE: The Australian Open tennis Grand Slam and Australia’s Boxing Day cricket Test against arch-rivals England in Melbourne will be able to welcome capacity crowds as COVID-19 restrictions ease in Victoria state, officials said on Thursday.
Victoria Premier Dan Andrews said that the state was about to hit 90 percent vaccination, allowing long-standing restrictions to be swept aside, including capacity limits on sporting events.
Andrews said from 11:59 p.m. (1259 GMT) on Thursday, there will no longer be any caps on gatherings in the state.
“Whether it’s 100,000 people at the MCG on Boxing Day or a smaller group of people standing up at the ... local pub, this is the Covid-normal that every Victorian has built,” he said at a media briefing.
How many spectators, if any, would be allowed into the cavernous 100,000 capacity Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) for the third Ashes Test had been up in the air.
Last year’s Boxing Day test between Australia and India had crowds capped at 30,000 per day due to the pandemic.
The last Ashes test against England at the stadium in 2017 drew a crowd of more than 88,000 on Boxing Day alone.
Australia will face Joe Root’s England at the MCG from Dec 26 during the upcoming five-Test Ashes series, which will start in Brisbane on Dec 8.
The eased restrictions will be welcomed by Australia’s major sports, which have taken significant hits to revenue due to crowd caps in Melbourne, the country’s second-largest city and Victoria state capital, through the pandemic.
The first tennis Grand Slam of 2022 is due to start on January 17 at Melbourne Park, which will also be allowed a full capacity crowd.
The last Australian Open in February was limited to 30,000 people per day — about half of Melbourne Park’s usual capacity — before all fans were banned for five days due to a snap lockdown.
But whether a full contingent of tennis stars will make the trip to Melbourne remains to be seen.
Authorities have warned that unvaccinated players are unlikely to get visas, throwing defending champion Novak Djokovic’s participation into serious doubt.
The world number one has publicly voiced opposition to vaccines and refused to say whether he has been jabbed against coronavirus.
Published in Dawn, November 19th, 2021