Melbourne lifts lockdown, but questions remain over return of tennis fans


Melbourne, Feb 17  : Stay-at-home orders will be lifted for six million residents of Australia’s second-most populous state late Wednesday, although it was unclear if the Australian Open tennis tournament could welcome back fans in Melbourne.

A snap five-day lockdown had been ordered for Victoria state Friday after a small outbreak of the more infectious UK coronavirus variant prompted fears Australia’s successful battle to contain the pandemic could be undone.

The virus cluster linked to a hotel quarantining travellers returned from overseas has grown to 19 people, but with no new cases reported Wednesday authorities said the lockdown would be lifted at 11.59 pm as planned.

However, it was unclear if the year’s first tennis Grand Slam — which started three weeks late to allow international players to quarantine — would be allowed to welcome socially distanced fans as the final rounds get underway in Melbourne.

Tickets went on sale for Thursday’s matches, but there was no formal announcement from organisers.

Premier Daniel Andrews said numbers at large public events would be capped, but further examination of organiser plans to keep attendees safe was required.

“They will be on a case-by-case basis and it is not a simple process we go through quite an exhaustive process to make sure that those events are viable and can happen but are safe,” he said.

Andrews said further announcements on events would be made later Wednesday.