MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Australia’s premier horse race will go ahead next week but there’ll be no crowd allowed for the Melbourne Cup despite the easing of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
Victoria state has eased strict lockdown regulations following a deadly second wave of COVID-19 infections and will allow crowds to return to sports events eventually.
But Victoria’s Racing Minister Martin Pakula on Wednesday said the changes were too close to come into play at the Melbourne Cup, raced since 1861 on the first Tuesday in November.
“The government has determined that next week is not a suitable time for gatherings of that nature,” Pakula said in a statement. “It is the right decision and has been made in the interests of all Victorians.”
The so-called “race that stops a nation” begins at 3 p.m. local time and attracts crowds of more than 100,000 at Flemington race course in Melbourne. Australia generally comes to a standstill as people in workplaces around the nation gather at race courses and around televisions to watch.
Racing has continued in Australia during the pandemic but without crowds in some jurisdictions, including Victoria state. The Victorian government's latest decision comes a week after it initially allowed the connections of horses to attend the Cox Plate at Moonee Valley, but reversed the decision following widespread public backlash.
The Australian rules Australian Football League grand final, another major annual event for Melbourne, was staged in Brisbane, Queensland state, last Saturday because of travel restrictions and quarantine rules made it impossible to be held in Victoria. Richmond beat Geelong in a match between two Victorian teams.
Another sports event that Victorians had to celebrate remotely was Melbourne Storm's win in the National Rugby League final on Sunday in Sydney. The Melbourne Storm relocated to Queensland state for most of the NRL season because of border and venue closures, and had to travel back there rather than Melbourne after their victory over Penrith.
The Victorian government is planning to allow crowds of up to 25,000 to attend the traditional Boxing Day cricket test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, featuring Australia against India from Dec. 26-30. The MCG's capacity is around 100,000.
Melbourne, Australia's second-largest city, started to emerge from a lockdown on Monday after recording its first day without a new coronavirus case in more than four months.
Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews on Monday announced that restaurants, cafes and bars will be allowed to open and outdoor contact sports could resume this week. At midnight on Nov. 8, Melbourne residents will no longer be restricted to traveling within 25 kilometers (16 miles) of their homes.
Victoria state's death toll from the coronavirus is 817. Only 88 people have died from COVID-19 elsewhere in Australia. Victoria’s daily infection tally peaked at 725 in early August.
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