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'No chance' of Australian Grand Prix going behind closed doors – organisers | Sport


Italian Formula One cars have arrived in Australia and there is no chance of the opening grand prix of the season being cancelled, postponed or being held behind closed doors, despite fears over the coronavirus.

Andrew Westacott, CEO of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation, said on Monday the race will proceed as planned at Albert Park, after it was announced the next race on the calendar, the Bahrain GP on 22 March, will be run without spectators present. April’s Chinese Grand Prix has already been postponed.

The growing spread of the virus had led to concern over whether the Australian GP would be affected, but when questioned about the possibility of Melbourne following Bahrain by excluding fans, Westacott was adamant it would not.

“Not a chance,” Westacott told SEN. “When you look at 86,000 at the MCG last night, and the footy the week after, we’ve got to go around things sensibly and keep moving on through life while taking the necessary precautions.

“The interesting thing is the Italian freight. The Alpha Tauri cars and the Ferrari cars are on their way from Avalon [airport] as we speak, so it’s really good. The key personnel are on their planes.

“Interestingly, the only two people who didn’t hail from Italy were Sebastian Vettel, who came out of Switzerland, and Charles Leclerc coming out of Monaco via Nice. All the others are on their way, and we’re expecting [them] in the next 12 to 24 hours.”

Jenny Mikakos, the minister for health, said the fact there had been no reported cases of community transmission of the virus in Victoria meant the grand prix could go ahead.

“At this point in time our advice around the grand prix and other public mass gathering events remains unchanged,” she said. “We want to enable people to go about and live their lives as normally as possible, of course taking greater precautions than they would normally.”

More than 300,000 people usually attend the race weekend, raising fears over the spread of the virus this year, but Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton said there was no need yet to advise against events on such a scale.

“There is a time and a place for the cancellation of public gatherings,” he said. “The timing is important because when community transmission is at significant levels it has an effect.

“When there is undetected or very small numbers of community transmission occurring that is not necessarily the time. It loses the will of the population to engage in what is required and has very little effect on the epidemic curve.

“Make no mistake, we will hit the button on the things that are required for social distancing at the point they’re required.”

That threshold, he said, would come when there is “significant community transmission”.

Last week the Australian government announced enhanced screening measures for travellers arriving from Italy, although it stopped short of imposing an outright travel ban, as it has done for China, Iran and South Korea.

Under the new measures, team mechanics and staff have been subject to rigorous checks before their departure from Italy and then upon arrival in Australia. If a traveller fails those health checks, they will be refused entry to the country.

Professor Brendan Murphy, the Australian government’s chief medical officer, said he did not believe there was a risk in staging the grand prix weekend, which starts on Friday with free practice and concludes with the main race on Sunday.

“Obviously people have been talking about the Italian Ferrari team, but they’ve been carefully screened on the way in,” he said. “There is no evidence of community transmission in Victoria at the moment. I’m not feeling at all concerned going to mass gatherings or walking down the streets in Victoria.”

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