Australian GP set to go ahead amid coronavirus fears

The Australian Grand Prix is set to go ahead as planned on March 15. Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

The promoter of Formula One's season-opening Australian Grand Prix insists the race will go ahead as planned on March 15, despite concerns about the spread of coronavirus.

A number of international sporting events have been cancelled or postponed in recent weeks due to the Covid-19 epidemic, including the opening round of the Moto GP championship in Qatar.

F1's Chinese Grand Prix, which was due to take place on April 19, was also postponed as a result of the outbreak, which originated in China at the end of last year.

However, as things stand, all other rounds of the F1 calendar are due to go ahead this year.

On Monday, the Australian Grand Prix Corporation CEO, Andrew Westacott, issued a statement saying he was taking the situation seriously but saw no reason to call the Melbourne race off.

"We are all systems go and gearing up for the 25th Formula One race in Melbourne next week," Westacott said. "The finishing touches are being put on the circuit, Formula One freight and personnel are arriving in the coming days and we're looking forward to opening the gates to the public on Thursday 12 March.

"The health and safety of everyone at the Formula One Rolex Australian Grand Prix 2020 is paramount. The Australian Grand Prix Corporation has robust health, safety and emergency management arrangements in place at each event and we are working collaboratively with health agencies and related government and emergency services organisations in addressing this matter.

"Formula One has again confirmed overnight that the Australian Grand Prix is going ahead and we're looking forward to welcoming them and the teams to Melbourne."

The Australian government has banned foreign travellers who have visited China or Iran in the last 14 days, following outbreaks of Covid-19 in those countries. Other countries, including Qatar, have added Italy to their list after its number of confirmed cases surpassed Iran's.

Australia's restrictions on travellers from China and Iran require a 14-day period outside of those countries before arrival in Australia. A similar restriction on travellers from Italy could prevent personnel from Italian-based teams Ferrari and Toro Rosso entering the country, but Westacott said his guidance from government authorities gave no indication of further travel bans.

"We continue to closely monitor the situation in the lead-up to the Grand Prix and are taking guidance from subject matter experts, including Victorian and National Chief Health Officers and the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee. At this stage there is no indication of further travel bans, nor is there any indication that Formula One and the teams will not be arriving as usual."

The second round of the F1 championship is due to take place in Bahrain a week later on March 22. Bahrain is currently hosting a Formula 2 and Formula 3 test at the same circuit and has given no indication it will postpone or cancel the F1 race. However, all flights from Dubai to Bahrain are currently cancelled, potentially complicating travel arrangements for some members of the F1 paddock as they arrive from Australia.

Last week, the third round in Vietnam also confirmed its intention to go ahead with the race, but on Monday the government announced it would temporarily suspend visa-free travel for citizens from Italy.