Enhanced screening measures for visitors travelling from Italy to Australia, rather than an outright travel ban, have been introduced amid fears the Formula One season opener, scheduled to take place in Melbourne next week, would be cancelled or postponed.
Primer minister Scott Morrison confirmed the extra measures travellers from Italy will face after the coronavirus spread rapidly in the country, home to the Ferrari and AlphaTauri teams and the tyre supplier Pirelli.
A total ban on travelling – which would prevent the teams from leaving their Italian bases – has not been implemented, but team mechanics and staff will be subject to rigorous checks before departure and upon arrival in Australia. If a traveller fails those health checks, they will be refused entry.
Should one or more teams be unable to compete in the race, the grand prix would be declared void, F1 managing director Ross Brawn said earlier in the week, and any race that did take place with a weakened field would not count for championship points.
“If a team is prevented from entering a country we can’t have a race,” Brawn told Reuters. “Not a Formula One world championship race, anyway, because that would be unfair. Obviously if a team makes its own choice not to go to a race, that’s their decision. But where a team is prevented from going to a race because of a decision of the country then it’s difficult to have a fair competition.”
Morrison said a final decision on the staging of the grand prix at Albert Park remains a matter for the Victorian government.
Organisers of the race insisted earlier in the week the race would go ahead as planned until they were advised otherwise by experts they were in consultation with, including Victorian and national chief health officers and the Australian Health Protection principal committee.
“Travellers will be asked mandatory questions at check-in and anyone failing those checks will be denied approval to board,” Morrison said. “If anyone gets sick on board, biosecurity and health will meet the plane and manage those people directly. On arrival, travellers will not be able to use the smart gates. They will have to be dealt with directly by an officer.”
The Australian government also said the coronavirus-related travel bans for foreigners coming from mainland China and Iran would continue, and that the ban will also be extended to South Korea, another country where the spread of the virus has escalated recently. The Chinese Grand Prix in April has already been cancelled while there are doubts over the inaugural Vietnam GP at the beginning of next month.
“The Australian Grand Prix Corporation has been in regular, daily contact with state and commonwealth agencies and with F1 management, and based on all current advice there is no impediment to the race proceeding as planned,” a Victorian government spokesman said on Thursday.
On Wednesday, Melbourne’s major events chief insisted the grand prix would go ahead, although he admitted he could not say that with absolute confidence.
“The set-up is already occurring, we would be expecting machinery and teams to be arriving from today through to the end of the weekend,” said Martin Pakula, minister for tourism, sport and major events in the Victoria state government. “So we are almost at the point where everybody is going to be here within the next few days.
“But having said that, I recognise the situation is extremely dynamic and to some extent there are matters that are out of control. There are decisions made by the [government] or might be made overseas.”
The outbreak of coronavirus in Italy, which has resulted in more than 100 deaths, has seriously impacted sporting events in the country, including Serie A top flight football and Six Nations matches involving Italy, and the government announced this week that all sports events must be played behind closed doors until 13 April.