The Australian Open will be allowed to admit up to 30,000 fans a day, around 50 per cent of the usual attendance, when the Grand Slam gets underway on February 8th, Victoria state sports minister Martin Pakula said.
The limit will be reduced to 25,000 over the last five days of the tournament when there are fewer matches, but Pakula said the announcement would ensure some of the biggest crowds for a sporting event since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.
"It'll mean that over the 14 days, we will have up to 390,000 people here at Melbourne Park and that's about 50 per cent of the average over the last three years," he told reporters at the venue for the tournament.
“It will not be the same as the last few years but it will be the most significant international event with crowds that the world has seen in many, many months.”
Pakula said the decision was a testament to the job the people of Victoria had done in containing the new coronavirus after enduring one of the longest and strictest lockdowns in the world.
It has been 24 days since Victoria reported a locally acquired Covid-19 infection, while Australia as a whole posted a 13th straight day without a community case on Saturday. The Australian government said the country remained on track to start its vaccine rollout from late February despite reports of supply problems in Europe.
More than 1,000 people, players and their entourages, were obliged to undergo 14 days of quarantine on their arrival in Australia ahead of the year’s first Grand Slam.
Most were allowed out of their rooms for up to five hours a day for training and gym work, but 72 players remained in strict lockdown after fellow passengers on their flights to Australia tested positive for the virus that causes Covid-19.
Despite gripes from some at the start of quarantine, tournament chief Craig Tiley said he was "particularly proud" of the "playing group", most of whom will be out of quarantine by the end of Saturday.
“I’ve seen a few of them this morning and contrary to what some players said 10 days ago, the majority of them – 99.9 per cent – are absolutely happy to be out and very appreciative of our efforts to protect them,” he said.
Local health authorities said on Saturday they were still managing five active Covid-19 cases connected to the tennis, one of them a player.
Spain's Paula Badosa, the world number 67, was the only player to announce she had tested positive in Melbourne. She has another few days of quarantine to complete.
Meanwhile, the Australian Open quarantine facilities are still holding 15 people, including one player and two others who tested positive for Covid-19 earlier in their lockdown, Melbourne health authorities said on Sunday.
The vast majority of the more than 1,000 players and their entourages undergoing 14 days of isolation in Melbourne and Adelaide were released by midnight on Saturday and have started preparing for the Grand Slam.
Victoria on Sunday reported no local transmission of the virus for the 29th straight day and Australian Open tournament chief Craig Tiley said the priority for his organisation remained the health of the local community.
“No one is coming out of quarantine unless it is absolutely proved that they are not incubating the virus,” he said on ABC TV on Sunday. “They’ve had a test every day, there’s no quarantine process in the world that has been as rigid as this one. The players are in the community, and they are like us, and we have to keep practising the health protocols to keep us safe.”