Coronavirus And Racing: What We Know, And What Happens Next

Coronavirus And Racing: What We Know, And What Happens Next

© 2020, Roadracing World Publishing, Inc. By David Swarts.

In January, a respiratory illness first reported in Wuhan, China began spreading at an alarming rate. It was named “coronavirus disease 2019,” officially abbreviated to COVID-19, and commonly referred to as “coronavirus.”

Most people who get COVID-19 suffer mild flu-like symptoms, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and about 16% of cases result in serious illness. Some cases, however, end up being fatal, especially in elderly patients and those with underlying health conditions.

The CDC estimates that approximately 55,000 people worldwide die each year from flu and flu-like illnesses.

From China, COVID-19 has spread to nearly 80 countries around the world in just two months, infecting approximately 95,000 people and killing 3,300, according to CNN. About 80% of the reported COVID-19 cases are currently located in China, South Korea, Iran, and Italy.

To slow the spread of COVID-19, some countries have implemented restrictions, quarantines, and even bans on travelers who live in those countries or who have traveled through those parts of the world.

Just days before members of the FIM MotoGP World Championship paddock started traveling to Qatar for the opening of the 2020 season, (scheduled for this coming weekend, March 6-8 at Losail International Circuit), the government of Qatar instituted a mandatory 14-day quarantine for any Italian citizen trying to enter the country or anyone trying to enter the country after traveling through Italy. That development prevented Italian riders, engineers, technicians, team members, and sponsors from attending the Grand Prix in Qatar.

After working hard to come up with alternative solutions, Dorna, the commercial rights holder of MotoGP, decided to cancel only the MotoGP class race (because Moto2 and Moto3 teams were already in Qatar, for testing). Then, based on a recommendation by Thailand’s Department of Disease Control that mass gatherings of people be postponed whenever possible, Dorna decided to postpone the Thai Grand Prix, (originally scheduled for March 20-22), until October 2-4. Moving the Thai Grand Prix displaced the MotoGP race at MotorLand Aragon from October 2-4 to September 25-27 and created the situation where the Red Bull Grand Prix of The Americas, scheduled for April 3-5 at Circuit of The Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas, will be the first race of 2020 for the MotoGP class.

This was all confirmed by Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta in a press conference held Thursday at Losail International Circuit, where the Moto2 and Moto3 classes will still race this weekend because they were already in Qatar before that country’s newest travel restrictions were put in place.

Ezpeleta said Dorna Sports is going to continue monitoring the COVID-19 situation and wait until the last moment to ship all of the MotoGP racebikes and equipment from Qatar to COTA, but as of today, the event is scheduled to take place.

MotoAmerica’s Superbike class is slated to race twice at COTA in support of the MotoGP event, but if Dorna does need to cancel or postpone its races at COTA, MotoAmerica will not race alone in Texas, according to MotoAmerica COO Chuck Aksland.

Currently, the United States is only restricting entrance to the country for travelers coming from China and Iran, but some U.S.-based airlines have suspended direct flights from Milan, Italy to the United States.

Considering Qatar’s 14-day quarantine for travelers from Italy resulted in the MotoGP race being cancelled in Qatar, reached out to Ducati Corse MotoGP Press Officer Artur Vilalta to see if Ducati Corse or other Italian teams are doing anything extraordinary — like coming into the U.S. well in advance — to ensure they can be at the races in Texas.

“We can’t do anything extraordinary,” Vilalta wrote in an email. “As in Qatar, if USA don’t allow Italian people, MotoGP won’t race there. Tough and easy.

“Everything is packed in Qatar (bikes, boxes, offices…) and ready to go where Dorna decides. At the moment, the plan is Austin, on the paper, is the next race. But the situation with Coronavirus is changing day by day, so we have to wait.”

Responding to a follow-up question, Vilalta said no one in the Ducati organization has been infected with COVID-19.

Elsewhere in America, the official MotoAmerica test is still scheduled to happen March 10-11, and the 79th Daytona 200 and Daytona TT American Flat Track events are still scheduled for March 14 at Daytona International Speedway.

All of this is as of post time, and as anyone following COVID-19 in the news already knows, things can change quickly.

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