MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australian Football League (AFL) players living in Melbourne’s COVID-19 “hotspots” face a midnight deadline to move to safer zones or face being excluded from matches due to tightening government restrictions, the AFL said on Wednesday.

Australia’s second city has been battling a spike of COVID-19 infections over the past week, prompting authorities to reinstall strict lockdown measures in some 30 suburbs, affecting more than 300,000 people.

With nine of the AFL’s 18 teams based in Melbourne, the outbreak has rocked the league, which is struggling to complete the season amid varying border controls across the country.

Authorities in New South Wales (NSW) on Wednesday banned travellers from the Melbourne hotspots from entering the state after midnight, meaning players living in the affected zones would also be unable to travel there for games.

“Clubs were informed of the (NSW) decision this morning by the AFL, but the finer details are still being worked out with the AFL Players’ Association,” the AFL’s website said.

The measures could affect up to seven of the nine Melbourne clubs, local media reported.

The AFL said “multiple players/staff” from the Western Bulldogs, North Melbourne and Essendon live in the hotspots.

The AFL is looking at moving some Melbourne clubs to NSW to allow the season to continue after authorities in northeastern Queensland state introduced tough quarantine measures targeting Melbourne teams.

While residents from Melbourne’s hotspots are banned from entering NSW, the border between NSW and Victoria state, of which Melbourne is the capital, remains open.

The AFL season resumed in mid-June after a three-month hiatus but the league has been beset by scheduling problems due to the tightening restrictions.

On Wednesday, two players from Melbourne side Collingwood Magpies were sanctioned for breaching strict biosecurity protocols. Midfielder Steele Sidebottom was banned for four games and team mate Lynden Dunn banned for one, the AFL said.

(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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