A cap of 30,000 fans per day – around 50% of the usual attendance figure – had been enforced since the year’s first grand slam began on Monday, although crowd numbers have been well below that capacity – just 76,213 have been through the turnstiles across the first four days, the Guardian reports. Credit: AP Photo/Andy Brownbill

Tennis fans will now be barred from the Australian Open as Melbourne heads into a hard five-day lockdown today, PA has reported.

The new rules classify professional athletes as essential workers and stipulate that sporting venues hosting professional events can remain open with key staff present but no spectators, The Guardian has reported.

From Saturday, traditionally one of the most popular days of the tournament, all remaining matches up to and including the men’s and women’s quarter-finals will be played behind closed doors.

Should the measures be eased after the five-day period, fans could be allowed back in time for the semi-finals and finals scheduled later next week.

Tennis Australia’s chief executive, Craig Tiley, said the players would operate in a bubble for the next five days, but otherwise would be under the same restrictions as the rest of the population of Victoria.

Serena Williams, the women’s number 10 seed, expects the new measures to impact the players but fully supported the decision to lock down. She added: “It’s going to be a rough few days for, I think, everyone, but we’ll hopefully get through it. But, you know what, at the end of the day we have to do what’s best. Hopefully it will be all right.”

A population of 6.5 million is being locked down because a British variant of the virus was detected at a Melbourne Airport hotel. Only international flights that were already in the air when the lockdown was announced will be allowed to land at the airport. Schools and many businesses will be closed and residents are ordered to stay at home except to exercise and for essential purposes.