Bahrain F1 race will run without fans because of coronavirus concern

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates —  Bahrain’s Formula One race this month will be run without spectators over fears about the new coronavirus, the island kingdom announced Sunday, as Mideast stock markets fell sharply amid plummeting demand for crude oil and OPEC’s inability to agree on a production cut.

The decision by Bahrain is just the latest disruption felt by the Mideast over the virus and the COVID-19 illness it causes. The wider Mideast now has over 6,980 confirmed cases of the virus. The majority are in hard-hit Iran, where the reported death toll jumped by 25% Sunday to 194 out of 6,566 confirmed cases.

Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad’s announcement on the F1 was carried by the state-run Bahrain News Agency. The crown prince said the decision was “to preserve the safety of citizens, residents and racing fans.” The race is scheduled for March 22.

“As an F1 host nation, balancing the welfare of supporters and race goers is a tremendous responsibility,” the Bahrain International Circuit said in a statement. “Given the continued spread of COVID-19 globally, 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.”

Bahrain, an island nation off the coast of Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf, has so far reported 79 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus. The kingdom has drastically cut air travel and urged residents who recently traveled from Iran to present themselves for testing, warning that those who don’t could face prosecution.

The decision to run the race with participants only was an extraordinary decision for Bahrain and F1. It cancelled its 2011 F1 race over Arab Spring protests there, but held the race in 2012 with fans in attendance.

The decision came as Australia is still set to hold its F1 Grand Prix on March 13 with spectators. F1 did not immediately respond to a request for comment.