MELBOURNE - Australian Open organisers are planning for players to have two weeks in a biosecure bubble before next year's Grand Slam rather than be subject to the country's strict hotel quarantine regime, tournament boss Craig Tiley said on Thursday.
Players, coaches and officials had to spend 14 days in hotel quarantine after arriving in Australia for the tournament in February due to COVID-19 restrictions, though most were permitted up to five hours a day to train at closed courts.
"There's a lot of time between now and when we get going, but at this point in time we're planning on having a two-week bubble, where the players will be able to move freely between the hotel and the courts," Tiley said at a Nine Network event.
"They’re protected, they’re kept safe among themselves and safe from the community as well.
"And after those two weeks, they’ll come out and be able to compete in the Australian Open in front of crowds.
"We’re working with the government and health authorities now on the amount of crowds and what the Australian Open will specifically look like."
The year's first Grand Slam is held at Melbourne Park.
About 70 Australian Open players were unable to leave their hotel rooms for their entire isolation last January after being deemed close contacts of positive cases on flights into Australia.
Some complained bitterly about the conditions, triggering a backlash from Melbourne residents who were subject to one of the world's strictest lockdowns for nearly four months in 2020.
Only one player, Spain's Paula Badosa, tested positive for the coronavirus.
Tiley said last month players would not be prepared to go through the same quarantine conditions again.
Last year's tournament was pushed back to February because organisers were unable to secure government approval in time.
Organisers are targeting the traditional January slot for the next one, although another lockdown in Victoria state, of which Melbourne is the capital, and Australia's slow vaccine roll-out have clouded the outlook.
Australia has a vague plan to start opening up the country when 70% of adults are fully vaccinated but less than a third have had two doses.
State leaders have also said they may still close borders and order lockdowns to try to contain outbreaks, undermining the federal government's plan.
Tiley said he hoped Australia would reach its target of vaccinating 80% of adults by November.
"That will certainly help the situation for the event in January," he added. (Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)