You would be hard-pressed to find a better way to potentially spread a highly contagious disease. Gather together hundreds of thousands of people from around Australia and further afield, confine them in a restricted space for hours at a time, and then let them disperse back to their home towns. That is the problem facing the state and organisers of the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix.
The coronavirus outbreak is causing headaches for event organisers around the world. Japan and Italy have banned crowds or postponed soccer matches, Hong Kong has cancelled most upcoming sporting and arts events, Facebook has cancelled its biggest conference of the year, and many companies have imposed travel restrictions on their staff. For Melbourne, the events capital of Australia, there will be some tough calls to make.
This weekend the city will host Moomba and the final of the women’s Twenty20 World Cup, with crowds expected to pour into the CBD and MCG. The following weekend is the grand prix, which is followed soon after by the International Flower and Garden Show, the Food and Wine Festival and the International Comedy Festival. And the AFL returns in two weeks’ time, with the season-opening clash of Richmond and Carlton at the MCG sure to attract another huge crowd.
So far, no organisers have pulled the plug, with the chief executive of the Australian Grand Prix, Andrew Westacott, adamant that “we are all systems go”. Premier Daniel Andrews has backed the call, relying on guidance from medical experts, who at this stage have no advice beyond encouraging people to follow good hygiene practices. Prime Minister Scott Morrison added his voice on Tuesday, encouraging people to go about their normal lives, including going to big events.