Crowds to return to Australian Open from Thursday

Snap lockdown quashes Melbourne outbreak tennis fans poised to return

Authorities in Australia said they had gained control of a hotel quarantine cluster in Melbourne, which prompted a five-day lockdown.

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.

In New Zealand, nearly two million Aucklanders will enjoy similar freedoms after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said a three-day lockdown had quelled the city's most serious outbreak in nearly six months.

Australia has reported over 29,000 cases and 909 deaths since the start of the pandemic - far fewer than many nations.

The bulk of these cases were linked to Melbourne Airport's Holiday Inn and all were presumed to be the United Kingdom strain of the virus, which is proving to be highly contagious and more hard to contain than the original variant. But the state government is now under pressure to explain how the virus escaped hotel quarantine, after similar breaches nationally in recent times.

"From 11:59pm [Wednesday local time], the restrictions will be dropped [but] masks will be required indoors and outdoors when you can't socially distance".

Andrews has conceded such "hyper-infectious" variants are hard to contain and examined tightening quarantine restrictions in Australia's second most populous state.

Tournament organizers said they expected crowds would be back on Thursday and would make a full statement later on Wednesday after the details were worked out. At least two of them had the United Kingdom variant.

Officials in both Victoria and Queensland states are now considering the use of purpose-built quarantine facilities at smaller regional airports, which proponents say could reduce Covid-19 spread.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that the lockdown would end as planned at midnight, even though three more locally transmitted cases have since been discovered. Victorians will only be allowed 5 visitors to the home per day and public gatherings will be limited to 20 people.

As Melbourne re-emerges from a five-day snap lockdown, fans can embrace life in the city once again by securing seats for blockbuster matches at the business end of the event, beginning with Thursday's women's singles semifinals before the first of the men's singles semis that evening.

Gathering limits will also remain in place.



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