Two more Australian Open tennis players have tested positive for Covid-19 after arriving in Melbourne, state health officials said on Tuesday.
It comes after a player was believed to have tested positive on Sunday, amid growing controversy over the event.
One more “non-playing participant” also has Covid, bringing the overall total linked to the Open to seven, including a flight attendant.
Some 1,200 people have flown in for the tournament, which begins on 8 February.
Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said in a statement that the latest three positive tests of two players and a non-participant were of a woman in her 20s and two men in their 30s, all of whom were in hotel quarantine.
But there was confusion when Tennis Australia disputed the latest announcement. Chief executive Craig Tiley said no players had tested positive at all – only those in their entourages. He said no players were in the medi-hotel, to which people are transferred if they test positive while in hotel quarantine.
Rows over quarantine rules have cast a shadow over the upcoming event.
Some players have expressed frustration about being confined to hotel rooms full-time while other rivals are not.
And some residents in Melbourne – a city which endured one of the world’s longest lockdowns last year – have their own concerns about the potential Covid risk posed by the tournament.
Positive cases on three flights have forced 72 players into full quarantine, meaning they have to isolate full-time in their hotel rooms for 14 days instead of being allowed outside to train like other participants.
Mr Tiley insisted players had been made aware of the quarantine possibilities beforehand and said that some may have not taken it seriously and “brushed it off”.
But he acknowledged it was “not an even playing field” for those stuck in their hotel rooms, given their competitors have access to five hours of court practice a day.
The majority of some 500 players attending the Open have accepted the conditions, organisers say.
Labor MP Bill Shorten told players to “get a grip”, adding: “People have died. People lost their jobs… and you got these pampered sooks who are having a cry over their conditions.”
What have the players said?
World number one Novak Djokovic lobbied authorities to relax quarantine rules for players – including making the periods shorter.
The suggestions earned him criticism from Australian player Nick Kyrgios, who tweeted: “Djokovic is a tool.”
Last year Djokovic organised an exhibition event in which he and others contracted the virus, drawing the disdain of Kyrgios at the time.
Kyrgios also criticised the girlfriend of fellow Australian player Bernard Tomic after she featured in a news clip complaining about hotel food and having to wash her hair by herself.
Vanessa Sierra has since said her comments were taken out of context and that she had received death threats, after her “I don’t wash my own hair” quote was mocked online.
While most players are being quarantined in Melbourne, Djokovic is part of a smaller group of big-name stars including Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka who are stationed in Adelaide for an exhibition match.
Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka issued a plea to fellow players to show “co-operation, understanding and empathy for the local community that has been going through a lot of very demanding restrictions”.
What’s it like to prepare for the #AustralianOpen the middle of a pandemic?
— BBC Radio 5 Live (@bbc5live) January 19, 2021
But Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut said that quarantine felt like prison.
“These people have no idea about tennis, about practice courts, about anything. It’s a complete disaster… The control of everything is not Tennis Australia, it’s the people from the government… I can’t imagine staying two weeks like this.”
He later apologised for his words, which he said were taken out of context, adding that Australia’s efforts to combat Covid were “admirable”.