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Australian Open to continue without fans for the next five days after Melbourne is placed in lockdown

A fresh COVID-19 cluster linked to a quarantine hotel in Melbourne reached 13 cases as of Thursday midnight, as authorities rush to quash the spread of the virus. All of those infections are linked to the highly contagious UK variant; the Australian Open will now proceed without spectators

The Australian Open is set to begin on Monday, February 8
Image: The Australian Open will enter a five-day snap coronavirus lockdown on Friday

The Australian Open will proceed without crowds over the next five days after the state of Victoria was placed under a snap lockdown from Friday to contain a fresh outbreak of COVID-19.

Premier Daniel Andrews announced new "circuit-breaker" restrictions will come in from 11.59pm local time on Friday following a cluster of 13 coronavirus cases linked to the Holiday Inn hotel at Melbourne Airport.

The tournament had been played in front of a reduced capacity for the opening five days, but it will now continue behind closed doors while the lockdown is in place, with Victorians having been told to stay at home.

Only international flights that were already in the air when the lockdown was announced will be allowed to land at Melbourne Airport, schools and many businesses will be closed and residents are ordered to stay at home except to exercise and for essential purposes.

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Premier of Victoria state, Daniel Andrews addresses the media during his daily televised press conference in Melbourne, Australia, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020.
Image: Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews announced the lockdown for the state, starting at midnight on Friday, calling it a "short, sharp circuit breaker" banning public gatherings, home auctions, weddings and religious gatherings

"Tennis Australia continues to work with the government to ensure the health and safety of everyone," tournament organisers said in a statement.

"We are notifying ticketholders, players and staff that there will be no fans onsite at the AO for five days, commencing from Saturday 13 February.

"The AO broadcast-only contingency plan will commence from Saturday 13 February until restrictions are lifted. Play will continue uninterrupted on broadcast, albeit without spectators onsite.

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"We will provide further updates on the new conditions as soon as possible."

Melbourne emerged from a 111-day lockdown in October following a fresh wave of infections that peaked at 725 cases a day.

Ahead of the announcement, Prime Minister Scott Morrison offered his government's full support for Victoria's decisions on containing the outbreak.

"We have dealt with (outbreaks) in the last few weeks in Sydney and Brisbane and Perth, and so a proportionate response enables tracers to be able to get on top of it and get the same successful result we have seen in other states," he told reporters.

Fans are allowed to remain on the grounds for Friday's play which sees Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, Dominic Thiem and Naomi Osaka in action.

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