Tennis tournament causes tension with Australians stranded by COVID-19

William WEST / AFP

As top tennis stars descended on Melbourne for the upcoming tennis grand slam, many Australians questioned the decision to host the tournament when thousands of citizens are stranded overseas due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Australia has halved the number of people who can return to the country each week as positive coronavirus cases in hotel quarantine rise, prompting airline Emirates to indefinitely suspend flights to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

Australians criticised the government on social media, questioning how it could make room for 1,200 tennis players and their entourages for next month's Australian Open, but not its own citizens. "If you want to come to Australia during a pandemic you have to be a sports star, movie celebrity or a billionaire media tycoon," said user Daniel Bleakley on Twitter, using the hashtag #strandedAussies. "Citizenship and an Australian passport alone are not enough."

Others said the funds used to host the tournament could have been diverted to boost hotel quarantine facilities and healthcare systems to help bring back stranded Aussies.

Officials in Victoria state, home to the Open, said hosting the tournament did not come at the cost of about 40,000 stranded Australians.

"No-one has been set aside coming from other jurisdictions into Victoria by virtue of the Australian Open going ahead," said Brett Sutton, Victoria chief medical officer. "They are separate decisions that are made upon their own merits."

Australia, which has managed the coronavirus better than many other nations through targeted lockdowns and high rates of testing and contact tracing, reported zero local COVID-19 cases on Monday.

But adding to the frustration for stranded Australians, the head of health department on Monday warned Australia may not fully reopen its international borders this year.

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