World Indoor Athletics and Chinese Grand Prix at risk over coronavirus outbreak

The Chinese Grand Prix has joined the World Indoor Athletics Championships in Nanjing as being under threat unless the coronavirus is urgently brought under control.

With the virus still spreading, World Athletics will make a decision in the next 10 days as to whether the event, which is due to take place between 13-15 March can go ahead. However, the Great Britain team is expected to pull out regardless of its decision after the Foreign Office warned against all but essential travel to China.

Meanwhile, both F1 management and the governing FIA are monitoring the situation to consider their options should the outbreak continue to be a threat over the next two months. The Chinese GP in Shanghai is scheduled for 19 April.

The coronavirus virus has now infected more than 4,500 people worldwide and caused 106 deaths. Although it originated in Wuhan, the Shanghai Health Commission has acknowledged that 13 new cases were identified on Monday in Shanghai, taking the total to 66. One case in the city has already ended fatally and two other people remain in critical condition.

Dr Sergio Brusin, a senior expert at the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control in Stockholm, has warned that he does not expect the virus to be eliminated any time soon.

“The virus is still spreading, there is no doubt about it,” he said. “There has been a huge increase of cases in China and more countries importing cases. We are seeing human to human transmission outside the area of Wuhan that can indicate that it will spread further.”

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Dr Brusin added he expected the outbreak to continue for at least a couple more months and that the F1 race may well be affected. “It is not going to be easy,” he said. “We are in for the long run. It is not something that is going to disappear next week, it will be quite a lot of work to contain.

“What happens between now and April is extremely difficult to predict but if the infection keeps on spreading at this pace I would not be optimistic at having an F1 ticket in my pocket.”

Two international sporting events have already been cancelled in China in the past three days. On Monday, Great Britain’s women’s Olympic basketball qualifying tournament was moved from Foshan in China to Serbia because of the coronavirus outbreak. Foshan is 1,000km from Wuhan but the tournament, which was due to take place next month, was deemed too much of a risk to stage.

On Sunday the women’s Olympic football Group B qualifying matches for Australia, China, Taiwan and Thailand, set to be held in Wuhan and then transferred to Nanjing, were cancelled and will now take place in Sydney in February.

Dr Brusin affirmed that if the virus was not brought under control, staging an F1 grand prix, which attracts crowds in the tens of thousands, would pose a genuine risk. “Mass gatherings would not be advisable because a lot of people could infect other people, he said. “That is why Chinese authorities have cancelled mass gatherings. It is a very sensible public health measure to take.”

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In logistical terms, the meeting takes place two weeks after F1’s inaugural race in Vietnam and cars and equipment could conceivably be held there while awaiting a decision on the race in Shanghai to be made.

A statement from F1 read: “At this stage we can only say that we’re monitoring the situation closely with our promoter in China and the FIA.” Should it be deemed unsafe to hold the race, with 21 other meetings this season, finding a space to reschedule it appears unlikely. A spokesperson for the FIA emphasised that the decision would be made by F1, the promoter and National Sporting Association (ASN), which is the Federation of Automobile Sports of China.

“We are monitoring the situation in close collaboration with F1, the promoter and with our ASN which is our conduit on the ground in China,” the FIA said. “We are all monitoring it together. At this stage not much we can do except watch the situation and react if necessary, if recommendations are made by the relevant authorities.”

Meanwhile, a World Athletics spokesperson confirmed the organisation was monitoring the situation carefully and is in close contact with the World Health Organisation. “Should any of their advice affect plans for the World Indoor Championships Nanjing 2020, we will notify all our stakeholders promptly,” they added.


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