Grand Prix abandoned, major sports may play to empty stadiums

Australian government leaders have acted on expert health advice to caution against non-essential overseas travel and gatherings of 500 people or more, as the global pandemic starts to restrict daily life.

Mar 13, 2020, updated Mar 13, 2020
Williams Racing pit garages.
Australian Grand Prix, Friday 13th March 2020. Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia..

Williams Racing pit garages. Australian Grand Prix, Friday 13th March 2020. Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia..

The Australian Grand Prix was due to start with today’s practice session but was scrapped at the last minute after several COVID-19 cases and advice from health officials that the event would risk the spread of coronavirus.

This afternoon, the Council Of Australian Governments formally agreed to advise against organised, non-essential mass gatherings of 500 people or more from Monday. That will effect major sporting events, concerts and conferences, but not schools, universities or parliament.

The AFL, NRL and Rugby Australia had already been considering locking fans out of games as a precaution. Cricket Australia today confirmed fans would be locked out of Australia’s three-match one day international series against New Zealand.

In Queensland, the first game at the 25,000-seat, Queensland Country Bank Stadium in Townsville, will go ahead tonight. It mat be the last game the North Queensland Cowboys and Brisbane Broncos play in front of fans for some time.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, who is believed to be attending the game, today emphasised that none of the state’s 31 COVID-19 cases were community-transmitted and, pointedly, all were so far in the south-east.

After her comments, the state’s tally rose to 35 – including cases in Kingaroy and Rockhampton, the first outside the south-east.

Existing government pandemic plans suggest the health benefits of cancellations, and a stricter social isolation policy, needed to be balanced against the economic and community impact. However, Palaszczuk went to COAG seeking clear advice on specific thresholds for such action.

“There is a lot of community concern out there, we share the community concern, but we need to have very clear advice from our health officials,” Palaszcuk told ABC Radio, emphasising that anyone unwell should stay at home.

The operators of Brisbane’s 52,500-seat Suncorp Stadium, due to host rugby union and football games this weekend, are now posting regular updates. As of this morning, the stadium advised: “Events still on as scheduled.”

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In Brisbane, the St Patrick’s Day Parade and associated Irish-themed events will go ahead tomorrow, however the Greeks’ Paniyiri Festival and the unions movement’s annual Labour Day March in May have already been cancelled. Ekka organisers are monitoring developments ahead of the annual show in August.

On the Gold Coast, the Corona Open world surfing event, due to run from March 26, was cancelled before COAG had finished meeting. However, local theme parks including Sea World and Warner Bros Movie World remain open – Disneyland and Universal Studios in California will be closed as a precaution – with the operators relying on the latest Queensland Health advice.

Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate said community safety was paramount and he understood surfers would also have had difficulty travelling to the event.

His comments came before Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Australians would be urged to reconsider non-essential overseas travel, and as bans and restrictions continue to disrupt international movements.

“Avoiding any unnecessary mass gathering is a good thing to do,” Tate said, describing the Grand Prix cancellation as a “step forward” for public health.

Tate suggested people attending the so-far unaffected Supanova convention on the Gold Coast this weekend incorporate a face mask into their costume.

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