The 2021 Australian Open will be played without any spectators in the stands for the next five days. This is in light of Victoria announcing a new COVID-enforced lockdown, which will begin on Friday at midnight local time.
The lockdown will end on Wednesday, after which citizens will be allowed to go out on the streets again.
Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews has implemented the new restrictions in response to the spread of the UK variant of COVID-19 virus. During his address, Andrews specified that sporting events can go on as scheduled - but without fans - during the state-wide lockdown.
"AFLW or … any number of other large and small professional sport events, they will function essentially as a workplace," Mr Andrews said. "But they will not function as an entertainment event, because there will be no crowds. And the workforce will be the minimum that is needed in order for that to be COVID-safe and safe in lots of other contexts."
For the first five days of the 2021 Australian Open, up to 30,000 fans were permitted to enter the grounds.
Players at Australian Open 2021 will compete in a bubble: Craig Tiley
Tennis Australia CEO and Australian Open Tournament Director Craig Tiley also addressed the media on Friday, stating that the tournament will go ahead without any fans.
Tiely asserted that his team had already considered such a scenario during its contingency planning, and that it was fully prepared. The organizers have also announced that tickets for the impacted days will be refunded.
"Play will continue and players will compete in a bubble form not dissimilar to what they've been doing right throughout the year," Craig Tiley stated. "This was the first event they'd played with crowds. Those who will be allowed onsite will be players and their direct support teams as well as those staff members who are unable to do their work from home."
The tournament has also put out a statement about the change of plans, but it remains to be seen if fans will be allowed back for the final rounds of the event.
23-time major winner Serena Williams was among those who reacted to the news of the lockdown after she won her match on Friday. "It's going to be a rough few days for everyone," Williams said.
The 2021 Australian Open is scheduled to be completed over the next weekend. The women's singles final is scheduled to be held on 20 February, and the men's singles final on the 21st.