Coronavirus prompts severe crowd restrictions on Chinese New Year raceday
Crowds for Hong Kong’s showpiece Chinese New Year raceday at Sha Tin on Monday are set to be severely restricted due to concerns around the outbreak of the potentially deadly coronavirus.
Officials at the Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC) have given the all-clear for the fixture to go ahead under strict protocols designed to allow “a very important part of community life” to take place, while also limiting any potential spread of the illness, which has killed 26 people in China and spread across the globe.
Four cases of the respiratory illness, which originated in China, have been confirmed in Hong Kong and cancellation of the Chinese New Year raceday, where a crowd of 100,000 people would normally be expected, was considered by the HKJC to not be beneficial for racing fans or professionals, as well as having an “adverse economic impact on our employees”.
Instead, officials have limited the crowd to 8,000 racegoers pre-booked into Sha Tin’s restaurants, cut staff working at the fixture from 11,000 to 3,000, closed parts of the course and arranged for all attendees to be temperature screened on arrival, plus issuing advice for medical masks to be worn.
In a statement, the HKJC said: “The Club has carefully reviewed arrangements for Chinese New Year raceday. We are particularly aware the raceday is a very important part of community life during the holidays.
“The cancellation of the raceday would therefore not only impact those who choose to visit the racecourses but all those who stay at home or elsewhere to enjoy the races on TV or via other platforms. Any cancellation would [also] have an adverse economic impact on our employees, owners, trainers and jockeys, who will be unable to race or ride horses.
“Considering all of these factors, the Club has decided that Chinese New Year raceday should go ahead, but with a reduced attendance and with measures in place to strengthen hygiene protection.”
The statement added: “According to medical experts, the level of health risk is not higher than visiting restaurants in shopping malls. All customers will receive temperature screening before entry and will be advised to wear medical masks.”
Off-course betting branches will also be closed “to prevent potential crowding” with the preventative racecourse and betting measures to stay in place “until further notice”.
Approximately 800 people have tested positive for the coronavirus, which can cause lung problems such as pneumonia, while 14 people have been tested for the illness in the UK, with nine awaiting results and five getting the all-clear.
Health officials in the UK believe the risk to the public to be low, while most of those affected abroad are recovering well, according to Public Health England.
Read The Lowdown from 8.30am daily on racingpost.com and the Racing Post app for all the day's going updates, news and tips