BRISBANE – Australian sports fans didn't really need a reminder about the coronavirus, but they got one anyway Friday when a number of major events Down Under were affected by concerns over the pandemic. And more are likely to follow.
As the Australian Formula One Grand Prix was being called off in Melbourne, Cricket Australia announced that three one-day international matches between Australia and New Zealand would be played in empty stadiums. The first of the three began Friday afternoon at the 48,000-seat Sydney Cricket Ground, where television announcers spoke of the "eerie" silence in the stadium devoid of fans.
Cricket Australia also announced that the women's national team's six-match tour to South Africa would be put off indefinitely.
The National Rugby League said weekend matches would ahead as schedule but the Australian Football League —Australian rules football — said it would hold its first-round matches next weekend in empty stadiums.
The National Basketball League is in its finals series between the Sydney Kings and Perth Wildcats, but will play the matches with no spectators. The national soccer federation said the domestic A-League would continue with its matches.
The organizing group for Super Rugby — which involves club teams from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Japan and Argentina — said a match on Saturday between the Jaguares and New Zealand's Highlanders would be held in an empty stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Australia's chief medical officer Brendan Murphy made a recommendation to federal and state governments to limit gatherings to fewer than 500 people. Later in the day, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison took Murphy's advice, announcing that all non-essential gatherings of more than 500 people will be discouraged beginning Monday.
That would certainly result in a suspension of most sports in Australia. They would join the NBA, NHL, elite soccer leagues in Europe, global tennis tournaments, the PGA and LPGA golf tours and Major League Baseball in sports already suspended because of the pandemic.
Later Friday, Swimming Australia said its national championships in April, which would act as a qualifier for the Tokyo Olympics, had been canceled. Australian media said it was the first time since World War II that the titles had not been held.
Cricket Australia chief executive Kevin Roberts said the decision to play games without any spectators was common sense “in the face of an unprecedented public health issue.”
There have been more than 128,000 cases and 4,700 deaths globally since the virus outbreak started in China late last year.
Most people quickly recover from the virus after experiencing only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks.
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