Virus fears cloud F1's season opener in Australia
Formula One's season-opening Australian Grand Prix will get underway with an air of anxiety this week, with members of two racing teams quarantined and local health authorities battling to contain community spread of the coronavirus.
Team Haas said two of their staff members were tested for coronavirus and were confined to their hotel rooms after showing symptoms of a cold, while McLaren said one of their team members had self-isolated.
F1 organisers have already postponed the Chinese race scheduled next month, while the Bahrain Grand Prix, the second stop on the calendar, will go ahead without spectators on March 22.
The Australian Grand Prix Corporation announced measures yesterday to limit interaction with fans, including scrapping the traditional autograph sessions along Melbourne Walk, a path near the paddock where fans take selfies with the drivers as they pass by.
However, Australian Grand Prix Corporation chief executive Andrew Westacott said on Monday there was "no chance" of a spectator ban at Albert Park, which is set to host thousands of fans from today, when practice sessions and qualifying commence for lower-profile racing series at the street circuit.
Since Westacott's declaration, there have been multiple cases of community transmission in Melbourne and a surge of infections in other Australian regions.
Two Melbourne schools were closed for containment efforts, including oneabout 3km from the race circuit.
Some 86,000 spectators packed into the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Sunday to watch Australia's cricketers beat India in the Women's Twenty20 World Cup final, but several other events have been cancelled or postponed.
Media pundits have questioned the wisdom of running the F1 race, which involves thousands of personnel from across the globe, and lured more than 300,000 fans to Albert Park last year, according to organisers' estimates.
The words "STOP F1" were written in the skies above Sydney yesterday, but it was unclear who was responsible for it.
"Of course it's all tricky at the moment, but we are trying to make the best of it," said Red Bull's Max Verstappen.- REUTERS