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Australian Open: Fans set to return to Melbourne Park after lockdown lifted

Melbourne, February 17: Australian Open fans are set to return to Melbourne Park from Thursday after the Victorian government confirmed the lifting of restrictions following a five-day lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic. While the number of supporters set to attend remains unknown, fans will be back in their seats for the beginning of the Australian Open semi-finals, with record-chasing Serena Williams set to face three-time grand slam champion Naomi Osaka in Melbourne. Defending men’s champion Novak Djokovic will play the tournament’s surprise package, Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev – who is the first player to reach a semi-final on their grand slam debut.

Djokovic was on court when the lockdown came into effect last Friday, with the five-day “circuit-breaker” designed to control an outbreak of the UK coronavirus strain. Part of the third round, the fourth round and quarter-finals of singles action were played behind closed doors after a series of outbreaks in Victoria. The state has recorded 12 more active cases since the lockdown was implemented but, with none discovered in the past 24 hours, Victorian premier Daniel Andrews announced restrictions will be eased. “I’m very, very pleased to announce that the restrictions will come off, almost all of them, at midnight tonight,” Andrews told reporters on Wednesday.

“From 11:59pm [Wednesday local time], the restrictions will be dropped [but] masks will be required indoors and outdoors when you can’t socially distance.” The stage-four restrictions meant residents could not leave their homes for any other reason than work, shopping for groceries, exercise or the giving or receiving of medial care. This year’s delayed Australian Open has had crowds capped at 30,000 per day with original COVID-19 restrictions, but new limits are yet to be determined for the rest of the tournament. “There will be meetings this afternoon [to determine] what is a safe number,” Andrews said. “They already were reduced, they may have to be reduced further, but that matter will be resolved in the next few hours.”

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