Australia state greenlights full crowds for Australian Open, Ashes cricket


FILE PHOTO: Tennis - Australian Open - Men's Singles Final - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, February 21, 2021 General view during the final between Serbia's Novak Djokovic and Russia's Daniil Medvedev. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - The Australian Open tennis Grand Slam and Boxing Day cricket test in Melbourne will be able to welcome capacity crowds as COVID-19 restrictions ease in Victoria state, officials said on Thursday.

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said from 11:59 p.m. (1259 GMT) on Thursday, there will no longer be any caps on gatherings in the state.

"Whether it's 100,000 people at the MCG on Boxing Day or a smaller group of people standing up at the ... local pub, this is the COVID-normal that every Victorian has built," he said at a media briefing.

The eased restrictions will be welcomed by Australia's major sports, which have taken significant hits to revenue due to crowd caps in Melbourne, the country's second-largest city and Victoria state capital, through the pandemic.

The last Australian Open in February was limited to 30,000 people per day -- about half of Melbourne Park's usual capacity -- before all fans were banned for five days due to a snap lockdown.

Last year's Boxing Day test between Australia and India had crowds capped at 30,000 per day at the 100,000-seat Melbourne Cricket Ground.

The last Ashes test against England at the stadium in 2017 drew a crowd of more than 88,000 on Boxing Day alone.

Australia will face Joe Root's England at the MCG from Dec. 26 during the upcoming five-test Ashes series.

Victoria has progressively eased restrictions as COVID-19 vaccination rates have soared in recent weeks. Authorities expect 90% of people in the state aged over 12 will be fully vaccinated by the end of the week.

(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Richard Pullin)

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