Australian F1 Grand Prix cancelled due to fears over coronavirus spread

An Australian Grand Prix official tells the crowd of spectators waiting at the gate that the event has been cancelled. Source: AAP

One of the biggest races on the formula one's calendar has been cancelled after the Victorian government announced no spectators would be allowed to attend the event.

Officials have announced the cancellation of the Australian Grand Prix, two days before the race was set to go ahead in Melbourne. 

The decision to call off the race, which draws crowds of up to 100,000 people, followed an announcement from Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews that spectators would be banned from the Albert Park race track on "public health grounds".

Some F1 fans were already waiting at the gates on Friday morning to watch practice sessions when they were informed of the cancellations. Race organisers say all ticket holders will receive a full refund.  

Haas team principle Guenther Steiner reacts to news the Grand Prix has been cancelled.
Haas team principle Guenther Steiner reacts to news the Grand Prix has been cancelled.

In a statement posted to social media on Friday morning, the governing body, Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), said all activity for Sunday's Australian Grand Prix had been cancelled following an emergency meeting on Thursday evening.

"Those discussions concluded with a majority view of the teams that the race should not go ahead," the statement read. 

"Formula 1 and the FIA, with the full support of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation (AGPC) have therefore taken the decision that all Formula 1 activity for the Australian Grand Prix were cancelled.

"We appreciate this is very disappointing news for the thousands of fans due to attend the race and all ticket holders will receive a full refund and a further announcement will be communicated in due course."

The FIA said they had considered the efforts that had gone into the opening round of the World Championship competition, but said the safety of Formula One members and the wider community had to take priority.

Eight formula one team members had been tested for coronavirus but only one returned a positive result.

Plans for the event were thrown into chaos after a team member tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, leading to Britain's McLaren Racing team withdrawing from the race.

Six-time formula one champion Lewis Hamilton added to pressure to cancel the race when he said he was "shocked" that the event would be going ahead.

"It seems like the rest of the world is reacting ... you see the NBA has been suspended yet formula one continues to go on - it's definitely concerning for me," he said during a press conference.

The cancellation comes amid a wider discussion over whether all mass-gatherings should be banned as a measure to slow the spread of the deadly virus within the Australian community.

In the United States, Broadway has been closed, the NBA season cancelled and the huge Coachella music festival postponed.

Meanwhile, in Australia, organisers announced the cancellation of Tasmania's Dark Mofo festival while debate continues over whether the Sydney Easter Show, NRL and AFL games and Anzac Day events should go ahead.

Shortly after the formula one announcement, Cricket Australia also said upcoming matches would be played in empty stadiums to limit the chances for COVID-19 to spread, but added that it would be "excessive" to cancel the games. 

As of Thursday afternoon, at least 139 people had tested positive to the virus in Australia, including three people who had died.

Globally, more than 127,000 cases have been confirmed. Of these, approximately 68,000 have recovered and at least 4,628 have died. 

Coronavirus symptoms can range from mild illness to pneumonia, according to the federal government's website, and can include a fever, coughing, sore throat, fatigue and shortness of breath.

People who believe they may have contracted the virus are advised to call their doctor before visiting or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

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