The BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells has become the first major sporting event in the U.S. to fall victim of the coronavirus outbreak.
The tournament—tennis’ second-biggest in the U.S. behind only the U.S. Open—was due to begin on Monday in California but tournament organizers have opted to postpone it instead.
“We are prepared to hold the tournament on another date and will explore options,” tournament director Tommy Haas said in a statement.
The field this year included Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal—the world No. 1 and No. 2 in the men’s tournament—23-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams, former U.S. Open champion Naomi Osaka and teenage sensation Coco Gauff.
Tournament officials said the decision to postpone the tournament had been taken following guidance of medical experts, California health officials and the Centers for Disease Control.
“There is too great a risk, at this time, to the public health of the Riverside County area in holding a large gathering of this size,” Dr. David Agus, Professor of Medicine and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Southern California, said in the statement.
“It is not in the public interest of fans, players and neighboring areas for this tournament to proceed. We all have to join together to protect the community from the coronavirus outbreak.”
The tournament was expected to draw approximately 450,000 spectators and tournament organizers said refunds are already available to fans who have purchased tickets, as is the option to receive credit for next year’s tournament.
Speaking to The New York Times, WTA Tour chief executive Steve Simon said tournament organizers had not considered playing the tournament without fans a viable option.
“We were supportive of the concept,” he was quoted as saying. “But ultimately the tournament didn’t feel it was in their best interest.”
California has over 100 suspected cases of coronavirus and Governor Gavin Newsom last week declared a state of emergency as the state works to contain the outbreak of the virus which causes a disease known as COVID-19.
As of Monday morning, at least 557 cases of the disease have been reported across the U.S., with 21 deaths and 8 people recovered, according to Johns Hopkins University which has been tracking the outbreak using combined data sources.
Over 3,800 people have died since the outbreak of coronavirus began in Wuhan, a city located in China’s central Hubei province, late last year. There are over 110,000 cases globally, with 62,000 recovered.
On Sunday night, officials in Riverside County, which includes Indian Wells, declared a public health emergency after reporting a first case of locally acquired coronavirus.
The patient is being treated at Eisenhower Health in Rancho Mirage and is the second case recorded in the county after a passenger from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, who is recovering at a medical facility in Northern California and is yet to return home since testing positive.
“We have always known this was a possibility,” Dr. Cameron Kaiser, Riverside County public health officer, said in a statement. “We have been planning for weeks and are prepared to take the necessary steps to protect the health of our local community.”
A number of sporting events across the world have been canceled, postponed or played behind closed doors because of COVID-19.
The Chinese Formula 1 Grand Prix, which was scheduled to be held next month, has been called off, while the GP in Bahrain, which is scheduled for March 22, will go ahead without fans.
In Italy, which is battling the most cases in Europe, Serie A soccer games were played behind closed doors at the weekend after a number of postponements the previous week.
In the U.S., NHL teams have closed their locker rooms to the media and the NFL postponed its annual Consumer Products Summit on Saturday.
World Health Organisation advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
- Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
- Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before; during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handlings animals or waste.
- Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
- Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.
- If you feel unwell (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and call local health authorities in advance.
- Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.
- Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
- Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
- Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
- Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
- Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of mask.
- Do not reuse single-use masks.