North West 200 expected to go ahead despite coronavirus pandemic

North West 200 organisers say Northern Ireland's biggest outdoor sporting event is "going [ahead] until we're told opposite" amid uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic

North West 200 expected to go ahead despite coronavirus pandemic

The outbreak of COVID-19 - which the World Health Organisation declared a pandemic on Wednesday - has played havoc with the world of motorsport, with motorcycle racing hit particularly hard.

The first four races of the 2020 MotoGP season had to be scrubbed from their original dates, while World Superbikes announced a calendar shakeup on Thursday too.

It is thought that the UK is yet to see the peak of the outbreak, and concerns have mounted over the past few weeks that road racing could be impacted.

The NW200 is pencilled in for 10-16 May and organisers say guidance from Northern Ireland's Chief Medical Officer is that the current risk posed by public gatherings is "fairly low"

"At the present time, the North West 200 is going until we're told opposite," NW200 Clerk of the Course Mervyn Whyte said in an interview with BBC Sport NI.

"We're acting responsibly.

"If the health authorities say 'no mass gatherings' we have to take that on board and, as a result, we would make a decision on whether the North West 200 goes or not."

"We have been [concerned] over these last few weeks.

"I know that we're in the initial stages - the information out there from the public health personnel is that it's probably going to escalate over the next few weeks.

"We're taking all that into consideration and looking at it on a daily basis.

"I have had an email back from the Chief Medical Officer to tell me at the present time that the risk at gatherings like the North West 200 - Ireland's largest outdoor sporting event - is fairly low.

"If that changes, we'll make a decision on what that advice is at the end of the day."

Should the situation surrounding coronavirus in Northern Ireland - which currently accounts for 18 of the 460 confirmed cases in the UK - the NW200 has looked into the possibility of postponing the event.

However, due to the complexities of organising a race on closed public roads, Whyte admits this will be "very difficult" to achieve.

The Isle of Man TT also faces a potential threat from coronavirus, though organisers recently released a statement insisting preparations for the 2020 event were still going as planned.

"The Isle of Man Government is carefully monitoring the Island's position regarding COVID-19 (Coronavirus) with a cross-government working group established to regularly review the changing situation.

"While the threat to the public in the Isle of Man remains low, a number of future contingency scenarios are being considered. This is usual practice and is in line with the WHO advice for preparations in case of a pandemic.

"The risk is low and preparations for this year's TT remain on schedule. Work will continue as usual in order to ensure another successful TT.

"The Organisers, in partnership with the Department for Enterprise and the Isle of Man Government and in line with experts in the UK, will continue to monitor the situation."

While there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 on the Isle of Man, the swell of people coming from all over the world during TT fortnight could cause major issues.

The last time both the North West 200 and the TT were cancelled was in 2001, when an outbreak of foot and mouth disease forced both events to be scrapped.

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