MELBOURNE, Australia – It has been less than a week since the first charter flights began arriving in Melbourne for the Australian Open.
So we’re not out of the woods yet in terms of positive COVID-19 tests, because of how long the incubation period can be.
On Thursday, Open Court learned that another positive test surfaced, this time a player.
But it comes from a flight that already posted an earlier positive test, the one from Abu Dhabi.
Late Thursday night, Spanish player Paula Badosa confirmed she was that player.
The passengers on that flight were already relegated to 24/7 quarantine, because of the earlier positive test by Canadian coach Sylvain Bruneau.
So this additional test doesn’t, practically speaking, change much for now.
But the fact that it’s a player is a reminder that one positive test within the current cohorts of four can exponentially increase the number of players who could still be pulled off the practice courts.
With the size of those cohorts set to double in the second week, there is consideration being given to keeping those cohorts to their current size, and not expanding them as planned.
More tests, all the time
As it is, the testing has expanded considerably beyond the initial guidelines.
For example, media and officials and others who were not part of the practice cohorts were already pre-ordained to be on lockdown for the full 24 hours a day.
So the first scheduled test for us was only to be on Day 3. Instead, we have been tested every day – either the rapid saliva test or the full nose and throat procedure, which is considered more effective.
The sheer volume appears to have put the results notifications behind schedule; I haven’t gotten word of the last two. But if they came back positive, no doubt I’d have gotten word.
A dozen positive tests so far
Thus far, out of about 1,300 players, coaches, staff, media and officials, there have not been that many positive tests.
Literally less than one per cent.
In a perfect world, there should be few or none. Everyone was mandated to produce a negative PCR test within 72 hours of departing on one of the charter flights. As well, those involved were strongly urged to isolate during those days before their departures.
Of course, that didn’t happen; any reasonably comprehensive list of Instagram tennis follows will tell you that.
Dayana Yastremska may be provisionally suspended after failing a drugs test but still appears to be on her way to Australia… pic.twitter.com/Ilsn71ZmIg— George Bellshaw (@BellshawGeorge) January 14, 2021
Tennys Sandgren tested positive in his pre-flight test. But it was determined that he was shedding the virus from a bout with COVID-19 at Thanksgiving. So he was allowed to board the flight.
Still, two people on Sandgren’s flight from Los Angeles – a flight attendant and a coach – tested positive on arrival in Melbourne.
The spin then was that the flight attendant could have had close contact with the entire plane. And so everyone on it had to give up their five-hour training window and go on full quarantine.
Bruneau positive out of Abu Dhabi
That put 67 passengers, of which 24 are players, in the room.
Since then, it’s clear that the government is requiring everyone in a flight with a positive tests to fully quarantine.
It doesn’t matter if they were at the other end of the plane or right next to them.
Shortly after the Los Angeles announcement, came word that a non-player tested positive after arriving on the Abu Dhabi flight.
And thus, a large group of mostly WTA players – 23 players, 64 passengers in all – were off the practice lists.
That turned out to be Sylvain Bruneau, who publicly apologized via social media for thwarting the preparation of so many players.
On Jan. 17, a third flight produced a positive test.
This one originated in Doha, where the men’s qualifying took place. It was not a player.
In that case, 58 passengers (including 25 players), have to stay fit in their hotel rooms.
Player/coach positive tests change the dynamic
There have been other tests, including a rumoured positive in the superstars’ group that flew to Adelaide. But they have been classified as “non-contagious”, cases of people shedding virus after they had already contracted it earlier.
There were two of those on Tuesday On Wednesday, two more Australian Open tennis players and a support team member came up positive.
Players testing positive – especially from a flight that has not already been fully quarantined – could prove to be more problematic at this point.
That hasn’t happened yet. But we’re a long way from a safe zone after which incubation of the virus is not a concern.
On Monday, the player “cohorts” are scheduled to double, with two players and team members becoming … four players and team members.
So a positive test in that setting, player or coach, would then affect twice as many people.
There has been no change in the cohort plans for the moment.
But we’re told that after consultation with the ATP and WTA, that could change.
The operative words this week: stay tuned.