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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Saturday January 16, 2020

Australian Open

Craig Tiley addresses the media on the situation on the ground in Melbourne after a trying day.

Photo Source: Mark Peterson / Corleve

During a very trying day in Melbourne today that saw 72 people learn that they’d have to endure a “hard” lockdown for the next 14 days without leaving their rooms for any type of training, Australian Open CEO Craig Tiley did his best to explain the situation.

Tennis Express

He talked about why Tennis Australia ruled that all players on the planes with positive tests were deemed to be "close contacts" of those who had tested positive, while at the same time admitting that the situation is very fluid, especially due to the governments fear of the new UK variant of the coronavirus, which is believed to spread much faster than other variants.

Tiley also worked to allay fears from the community, that Tennis Australia would be able to take all the necessary steps to keep the community safe.

Here is a seven and a half minute interview with Channel 9, in which Tiley covers a variety topics (note: this interview happened before the third plane with a positive covid-19 case added another 25 players to the number of those going into "hard" quarantine).

Did you expect it and have you planned for this?

"Ideally it's not what we wanted. So far we've had 643 negative tests, and two which have been unfortunately positive. We knew always there was going to be significant risk. With this pandemic you can never tell. Everyone coming into Australia either had to display evidence of a negative test or be non-infections 72 hours before departing, and then coming into Australia, go into isolation.

"We always felt there would be a chance, but it has been unfortunate that two people have tested positive in that window, and as a result the chief health officer has determined that those individuals that were on the plane, everyone else on that plane was a close contact. We never know what the situational decision would be coming in, and this decision has been made and now we have to manage an environment over the next 14 days for those players who unfortunately are not going to have the same conditions as those who are able to get out and practice."

One positive test was flight crew? Was the flight crew under the same protocols as the players and their support staffs?

"Yes, everyone that got on those flights was under the same conditions to ensure that the 72 hours ... before the flight begins, you have to show evidence of a negative test.”

Were players pre-warned that if there was a positive case on their flight the entire plane would go into hard quarantine, with no practice, no leaving their room, or has this been a last minute decision from the health officer?

"A few things important to note: We had 17 planes come in from seven different cities around the world, and we ensured that those planes were not more than 25 percent full, just because if someone was positive or there were several people that were positive, we would do everything that we possibly can to protect the health and safety of those individuals on the plane, that was our first objective.

"Secondly the determination of who was and who wasn't a close contact was going to be entirely up to the health department and they're doing what they deem as necessary in order to keep our community safe. Obviously what has changed over the last several weeks is the new UK strain, which is more infection and there's obviously a great desire by all of us to ensure that it doesn't come into our community.

"So these conditions they are constantly changing, but there's always a risk, we did make it clear at the beginning, that's why we have the player groups and cohorts, that there was always a risk that someone would be positive then and would have to go into 14 days of isolation, there was a risk on the plane that you would be a close contact, there was a risk that everyone could be a close contact. You don't know what the outcome of that decision is going to be until it actually happens. It is unfortunate that we are in an environment right now where we've got to manage it.”

You've said in the past that you can't ask athletes to quarantine for two weeks and step out and play a Grand Slam, do you now still feel that way that 47 players find themselves in that situation, and a few of them are in the Top 20?

"It's a tough situation and we've got to do whatever we can to make it as fair as possible, for those players that are in lockdown now, and one of the main reasons why coming out of quarantine we had an extra eight or nine days before the Australian Open started, so if by chance someone did test positive [or were deemed to be] a close contact and they had to go into isolation, it was still a possibility to come out now. There is a difficulty because there are events leading in (in the first week of February) and those players, to be ready to play those events, it is going to be extremely difficult.

"We need to do what we can do as best as we can for those players in providing exercise equipment in their rooms and we will do that over the course of today and then keep monitoring the situation. Obviously our first objective is that everyone remains as healthy as possible and is not the cause of further spread within the bubble of the virus, and then causes more people to be in lockdown.

"The Australian Open starts on February 8, we are reviewing the schedule leading in to see what we can do to assist these players. Obviously it's not something that we wanted to have happen. We were hoping that every flight would be okay and that's why we took those mitigating measures, but we're in this situation, we have to deal with it. The Australian Open is going ahead and we will continue to do the best we can possibly do to ensure those players have what is not a great situation, [at least have] one that is somewhat acceptable.

The players that are in hard lockdown, can they participate in the events in the week before Aussie Open?

"They have not been ruled out. It's entirely up to the players on what type of preparation they think they are going to get. Obviously they are not going to get, at this point, on court preparation. There are still some decisions to be made today and tomorrow, but we'll just assess that. We'll work with each of the players to see what's best, if we have to make some adjustments to the schedule, we'll see if we have to do that, we are going to do whatever we can to make the environment fair for those players.

“This is not an ideal situation. In the pandemic right now it's not an ideal situation for anyone. And we have to play our part to make sure the community stays safe. And that was the objective all along. Our chief health officer is ensuring that and we've made a commitment to the community about that. It's unfortunate but we are going to do whatever we can to make a bad situation better.

Is there any chance that you would push back the start date of the Australian Open?

"No, we are planning on February 8th and we do have that buffer time in there and that Monday, we are looking forward to welcoming fans to the Australian Open. Ticket sales have been going well. We've got two weeks of some great tennis and our intention is to continue with those dates."

Victorians are nervous, understandably, can you allay fears that this won't get out into the community?

"That's why it's a hard lockdown. We have an environment where the players are in isolation. It's a modified environment. For five hours a day some players are able to come out and practice for a couple of hours over very strict conditions. Quarantine Victoria is managing that situation, we have over 1500 staff that are doing it. That's why these decisions are tough and I totally understand the emotion that the players are going through right now as well as their objection to the situation, but our objective as well as that of the chief health officer is to ensure everyone's safety, and we do not want to be the cause of any negative situation with the virus and that's why we are having these tough conditions."


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