Australia minister urges calm as virus looms over F1, major events

By Ian Ransom
Australian Minister of Environment Greg Hunt signs the Paris Agreement on climate change held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York

By Ian Ransom

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia's health minister on Friday urged the sports-mad country not to fear being infected by the coronavirus when attending major events such as Formula One's season-opening Grand Prix in Melbourne next month.

Australia kicked off emergency measures on Thursday to restrain the spread of the disease which has infected about 80,000 people worldwide and killed more than 2,700.

The country has reported 23 cases but there has been no community transmission of the virus.

Although a slew of sports events have been postponed or canceled across the globe due to safety concerns, Health Minister Greg Hunt said the virus was still contained in Australia.

"The message from today, from the states and territories, was go about your ordinary business," Hunt told reporters in Melbourne following a briefing with state health officials.

"Go about your ordinary business. Go down to the Chinese restaurant, go out to the football or the Grand Prix or the netball.

"The messaging of this week is because of the global spread, there is a high likelihood that it will come to Australia at some point.

"Our message is that we are prepared for that moment because we are not immune but it is very important to go about your daily business."

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday there was every sign a pandemic was in store, becoming one of the world's first leaders to acknowledge the threat of the virus spreading beyond global containment efforts.

Australia is currently hosting the Women's T20 World Cup cricket tournament across the country, with the March 8 final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground having already sold more than 50,000 tickets.

The F1 Grand Prix at Albert Park in Melbourne is scheduled a week later on March 15. Organisers estimated more than 300,000 people attended race week last year.

The Chinese Grand Prix scheduled for Shanghai on April 19 was called off this month and there has been media speculation about the chances of Vietnam's race going ahead earlier in April as the virus spreads globally.

Australian Grand Prix organisers are planning for the race to proceed but said they would have no choice but to fall into line with health authorities if they advised otherwise.

"We have to be open-minded," Australian Grand Prix Corporation boss Andrew Westacott said Wednesday.


(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)