Victorian AFL clubs rush to escape Melbourne as league locks down
The Blues, Bombers and Hawks are hitting the skies early for interstate games as all Victorian-based AFL clubs have been ordered into a seven-day lockdown as the state deals with a COVID-19 cluster in Melbourne's north.
Essendon, Hawthorn and Carlton will leave Melbourne early for their interstate matches this weekend and still plan to return to Victoria after their respective round 11 games.
The nine Melbourne-based clubs, as well as Geelong, will face new restrictions for at least the next seven days with players and staffers recommended to only leave home for playing, training and essentials.
The Bombers and the Blues were scheduled to fly out of Melbourne on Wednesday, several days earlier than planned.
Essendon will go Perth for Saturday's game against West Coast while Carlton will depart for Sydney for Sunday's match against the Swans.
Hawthorn intends to head north on Thursday - a day earlier than originally planned - for their clash with Gold Coast in Darwin on Saturday night.
Richmond's contingent will be tested for COVID-19 before Sunday's match at the MCG against Adelaide as a precautionary measure to assist with the Crows in their return to South Australia after the match.
The hasty departures from Melbourne come as health authorities order thousands of fans who attended last Sunday's fixture between Collingwood and Port Adelaide to get a COVID-19 test and isolate until they return a negative result.
A person with coronavirus attended Port's one-point win over the Magpies at the MCG, seated in Zone 4, Level 1 of the Great Southern Stand at the Punt Road end.
Late on Tuesday evening Victoria's health department issued text messages to supporters seated in the vicinity of the positive case classifying them as close contacts and advising them to get tested.
Marvel Stadium is set to host a top-of-the-table clash between Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs on Friday night - the first of four AFL games in the Victorian capital this weekend.
Acting Victorian premier James Merlino told reporters on Wednesday that AFL games would go ahead with crowds in Melbourne, but that could change if the situation worsens:
"This is subject to how we go over the next 24 hours. We have got a critical period in front of us."
Bulldogs players and staff were all tested on Tuesday, and cleared, of having COVID-19 after being linked to a growing outbreak in Melbourne.
A Bulldogs staff member had visited a shopping centre when it was a coronavirus-exposed site.
Bulldogs captain Marcus Bontempelli said on Wednesday that players were prepared to adapt to the changing conditions to keep the season running as scheduled.
"It is a bit of a throwback in a sense (to 2020), but we're sort of well versed and well prepared."
COVID-19 restrictions were ramped up in Melbourne as authorities try to contain a cluster in Whittlesea in the city's north, which has now reached 15 cases.
The AFL has paused ticket sales for games in round 11 and 12, with the Victorian government yet to make a decision on crowd sizes.