Australian Open blow amid Novak Djokovic saga as Melbourne Omicron cases surge

Novak Djokovic is still not officially booked to defend his Australian Open title in Melbourne, although he'll do so in front of heavily reduced crowds even if he is cleared.

That's after a spike in the number of Covid-19Omicron cases urged Victoria officials to cap attendances at 50 per cent of maximum capacity at Melbourne Park.

Sessions that have already sold above that limit will be permitted to honour those tickets, however, while fans at the venue will be expected to wear face masks effectively at all times.

Lawmakers announced the changes as preparations enter their final stage ahead of Monday's start date, with Djokovic's involvement still undecided.

“Face masks will be mandatory for all patrons, except when eating or drinking, and the event will align with Victoria’s statewide Covid-safe settings,” read a statement by the Victoria government.

“This includes a density limit of one person per two square metres for all indoor hospitality.

“Ventilation will be improved in indoor areas of Melbourne Park, with HEPA filters to be installed in some spaces after a ventilation assessment is completed for the venue.

“As Covid-19 hospitalisations and cases continue to rise in Victoria, these mitigation strategies are proportionate and designed to assist in limiting the spread of Covid-19.”

Efforts to limit the spread of Covid-19 in Melbourne haven't been helped by recent protests against the handling of unvaccinated Djokovic, who travelled to Australia with an inadequate 'medical exemption'.

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The Serb was allegedly led to believe his positive Covid-19 test in December would make him exempt from the Australian Open's vaccine requirements.

A Victoria judge recently overturned the decision to revoke Djokovic's visa, but immigration minister Alex Hawke retains the authority to override that decision and deport him anyway.

That's despite the world No. 1 having already been included in the Australian Open draw, with Djokovic set to face compatriot Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round if he is cleared to compete.

Victoria recorded 25 Covid-related deaths on Thursday, with 953 people currently in hospital with the illness from a total of 37,169 positives cases recorded in the state that day.

Jaala Pulford, the acting minister for tourism, sport and major events, lauded the new crowd restrictions in Melbourne: “These updates to arrangements for the Australian Open will mean that fans, players and the workforce can look forward to a terrific Covid-safe event in Australia’s event capital.

“Melbourne Park is the best place on the planet to watch the tennis and thousands of spectators will be able to experience the iconic Australian Open from Monday.”

Organisers behind the competition recently increased security for the Australian Open amid concerns the tensions surrounding the Djokovic saga could spill into the stands.

The record nine-time Australian Open-winner has legions of supporters Down Under, though there remain concerns 'Nole' could still face jail time for lying in court about the details of his recent Covid positive.

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