By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) -Australian Football League (AFL) clubs were ordered to isolate as authorities battled to control an outbreak of COVID-19 in Melbourne on Wednesday.
Players and staff at 10 clubs based in Victoria state, the heartland of Australian Rules football, will only be allowed to leave their homes for work, exercise, caregiving and shopping for essential supplies, the AFL said on its website https://www.afl.com.au/news/620921/locked-down-vic-clubs-can-only-leave-home-for-four-reasons.
"The AFL has reached out to clubs to advise players, coaches and members of club football departments to move into 'COVID supplementary protocols,'" the report said.
Authorities reported six new cases in Victoria on Wednesday, bringing an outbreak that started in state capital Melbourne to 15 cases.
Victoria reinstated restrictions on gatherings and made masks mandatory at indoor venues until June 4, while New Zealand paused its quarantine-free travel with the state for three days.
Neighbouring states have banned travellers from Victoria who visited hotspots and ordered others to quarantine until they can return a negative test.
AFL matches will continue as scheduled in Melbourne this weekend but the league is on high alert, with authorities saying the next 24 hours will be crucial as they scramble to track and trace hundreds of close contacts of the confirmed cases.
The Melbourne Cricket Ground was added to a growing list of COVID hotspots after an infected person was among the crowd of 23,000 who attended an AFL game at the stadium on Sunday.
Melbourne-based AFL team Western Bulldogs was forced into isolation on Tuesday after a staff member visited a hotspot but they were cleared to return to training on Wednesday after testing negative.
Two Melbourne-based National Basketball League teams relocated to northern Queensland state on Tuesday.
New Zealand's travel suspension has also put the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman schedule in doubt, with the Melbourne Rebels unable to travel to Queenstown to play the Otago Highlanders for Sunday's game.
The suspension is due to be lifted on Friday evening but authorities may extend it depending on the health situation.
"If things worsen and the (travel) bubble isn't reinstated then we will look to get some kind of travel exemption ... so we will see how the week plays out," Rebels boss Baden Stephenson told Australian Associated Press.
A protracted lockdown to control a second wave outbreak in Victoria last year forced more than a dozen Melbourne-based professional sports teams to play away from home for several months to complete their seasons.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford)