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Australian GP likely to be postponed due to Covid-19

Organisers of the Australian Open are also facing issues ahead of tennis' opening Grand Slam

The Australian Formula One Grand Prix in Melbourne looks set to be rescheduled from its season-opening slot to later in the year due to the Covid-19 pandemic and a tightening of local quarantine rules.

Tickets for the March 21 race at Albert Park have yet to go on sale. A Formula One spokesman, asked on Monday (Jan 4) about media reports of a likely postponement, said the sport looked forward to racing again in March. He did not specify where, with Bahrain’s Grand Prix also scheduled for March.

“In 2020, we proved that we could return to racing safely and delivered what many thought was impossible in March,” he said.

“We have set out our 2021 calendar and look forward to the return of F1 in March this year.”

Local organisers in Melbourne were not immediately available for comment but various reports said a postponement, rather than a cancellation for the second year in a row, was likely to be announced later in January.

Construction work to erect fences and grandstands around the temporary street circuit would normally start by the end of the month.

Last year’s Australian GP was called off, only hours before first practice was due to start at the Albert Park street circuit, when a McLaren team member tested positive for the virus.

The season eventually started in Austria in July, with the calendar heavily rescheduled and reduced from an original record 22 races to 17 in Europe and the Middle East. Bahrain’s Sakhir circuit, which is due to host round two on March 28, ended up hosting two races at the end of November and in early December.

Teams, drivers and travelling media had to test negative before travelling and again on arrival, with a short quarantine until the results were known.

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, Britain’s seven-time world champion, missed the second race at Sakhir after testing positive for the virus.

Seven of F1’s 10 teams are based in England, where cases are surging due to a highly infectious new variant of the coronavirus. Many countries have shut their borders to travellers from Britain.

Melbourne would involve a far longer period of mandatory isolation. Hundreds of top tennis players, expected to arrive in Melbourne in mid-January, will have to spend 14 days in quarantine before the Feb 8-21 Australian Open.

Organisers of the year’s opening Grand Slam are also facing issues, after apartment owners on the premises of a luxury Melbourne hotel are threatening legal action against plans to use the hotel to quarantine players ahead of the Grand Slam.

The apartment owners at the Westin Melbourne said they had concerns for their health and never agreed to international players quarantining at the Westin, accusing the hotel’s management of “ambushing” them with the plan.

“It’s incredibly arrogant to ambush us this way as if it’s a done deal. There are substantive public health and legal issues that have not even been examined,” Mark Nicholson, a long-time apartment owner at the Westin, told Fairfax Media.

“At 84, I’m in the vulnerable group and it’s shocking the way they tried to ram this through without any attempt to consult with us,” added owner Digby Lewis.

“I’m more than happy to toss in A$10,000 (S$10,160) or $20,000 to help the legal fight, it’s bloody shocking.”

Westin management said their “Covid safe” plan had been shared with the owners corporation, adding that existing residents would have no contact with staff or guests and would use a separate entrance and lifts.

“Their floor will remain exclusive, while there will be no reticulation of ventilation between the floors,” the Westin said in a statement on Monday.

Tennis Australia did not provide immediate comment when contacted by Reuters on the same day.

Melbourne, Victoria’s capital, was the epicentre of Australia’s largest second wave outbreak of Covid-19, which started at two quarantine hotels for international arrivals. More than 18,000 infections were recorded in Victoria during the outbreak and nearly 800 deaths.

Victoria recorded three new cases on Monday, as authorities scrambled to trace close contacts from an outbreak that began in mid-December in Sydney’s Northern Beaches area. – REUTERS

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