Australian Open crowds banned as Melbourne begins lockdown

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Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne Park at Australian Open
Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne Park at Australian Open

Australia's second-largest city of Melbourne went from welcoming thousands of fans for its Grand Slam tennis tournament to deserted city streets overnight, as millions began a five-day coronavirus lockdown.

The city was quiet on Saturday morning, with a small number of joggers seen darting through the city centre, as the capital of the state of Victoria entered its third lockdown since the pandemic began.

Under the new measures, which came into place at midnight on Friday, residents have to stay home except for a limited number of permitted essential activities.

Although the Australian Open will play on without crowds, the ban on spectators would hurt tennis fans and players alike, Melbourne local Carrie Smith told AFP.

"They (Australian Open tennis players) were all saying how much they enjoyed having some sort of audience there and not having that will be different for them," Smith said.

Another tennis fan, Justin Carwardine, similarly said he was sad to see the Grand Slam lose the spark that crowds bring.

"It's not the romance of the players actually playing, it's the romance of hearing the crowd cheering and roaring," Carwardine said.

But both, along with other locals who spoke to AFP, said they supported the way the virus was being handled.

"I think we spent more time in our houses than outside... it's a lot," Alice Clarke told AFP.

"But whatever we need to do, I support."

The state recorded one new case of Covid-19 on Saturday, bringing the total cases in an outbreak of the UK strain to 14.

The virus initially leaked from an airport hotel housing international travellers undergoing mandatory quarantine.

State Premier Daniel Andrews said authorities were working under the assumption that the outbreak had spread into the community undetected.

"We know this is moving really, really fast. However, all my advice is that this strategy is exactly the right thing to do," Andrews said.

Melbourne spent more than 100 days under lockdown last year to crush an earlier outbreak that infected thousands and killed hundreds.

The latest cases end months of the city remaining virtually virus-free.

Two other Australian state capitals, Brisbane in the east and Perth in the west, recently underwent similar snap lockdowns in response to cases of the UK strain leaking from hotel quarantine.

In both instances, the outbreak was quickly contained.

Australia has been among the world's most successful countries in containing the coronavirus, with 909 deaths in a population of over 25 million.

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