Coronavirus: Bahrain to hold Formula 1 Grand Prix without spectators

Race weekend will go ahead as scheduled over March 20-22 weekend

(FILES) In this file photo taken on March 31, 2019, drivers steer their cars during the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix at the Sakhir circuit in the desert south of the Bahraini capital Manama. Bahrain's Formula 1 Grand Prix scheduled for March 20-22 will be held without spectators, the organisers said on March 8, in the latest sporting event to be hit by measures to contain the new coronavirus. / AFP / Andrej ISAKOVIC
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The Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix will go ahead over the March 20-22 weekend, although organisers have announced it will be held without spectators in a measure aimed at containing the coronavirus outbreak.

Bahrain, which is hosting the second round of the Formula One season on March 22, has reported 83 cases of the virus, mostly linked to people who had travelled to Iran.

"Convening a major sporting event, which is open to the public and allows thousands of international travellers and local fans to interact in close proximity would not be the right thing to do at the present time," organisers the Bahrain International Circuit said.

"To ensure that neither the sport, nor its global supporter base, is unduly impacted, the race weekend itself will still go ahead as a televised event."

Concerts featuring DJ's Afrojack and Don Diablo over the race weekend have been cancelled.

Bahrain has suspended flights to some destinations over concerns of the rapidly spreading virus.

It has also asked people entering the country who have recently visited Italy, South Korea, Egypt and Lebanon to isolate themselves for two weeks.

"Aggressive social distancing measures have further increased the effectiveness of preventing the virus' spread, something that would clearly be near impossible to maintain were the race to have proceeded as originally planned," the statement read.

"We know how disappointed many will be by this news, especially for those planning to travel to the event, which has become a cornerstone event of the international F1 calendar, but safety has to remain our utmost priority."

Organisers had earlier suspended ticket sales as they assessed how many spectators would be allowed to attend the race.

The Grand Prix, Bahrain's biggest global sporting event, reported a record three-day crowd of 97,000 in 2019, with 34,000 on the Sunday. It is one of two Formula One races held in the Gulf, with Abu Dhabi hosting the closing race in November at the Yas Marina Circuit.

The opening race of the season, the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, is scheduled to be held on March 15 and organisers had previously said they are confident the event will go ahead with spectators.

"All of the indications from Formula One management are that they are planning for the grand prix to go ahead," Martin Pakula, minister for tourism, sport and major events in the Victoria state government, said last week.