Coronavirus fears hit the Hong Kong tracks

Steve Bennett Steve Bennett
  • Public lock-out could last up to eight weeks
Sha Tin Members undergo Coronavirus checks


The Coronavirus fears have reached the Hong Kong race tracks, forcing a public lock-out.

The Year of the Rat is off to a bad start for Hong Kong (HK) racegoers as a ‘shutdown’ of public access areas was put into place for the Sha Tin meeting on Monday.

The ‘partial’ lockout was announced on Friday night, however this appeared to be too late for some as many racing fans were turned up for Monday’s big meeting and were greeted by closed gates.

Only a select few were permitted to enter the track, including owners, trainers, jockeys, staff and media plus those with existing bookings in sealed off areas.

Racegoers refused entry at Sha Tin

Local trainer Tony Cruz said he’s never experienced anything like it.

“It is the first time I have seen it, it is unbelievable,” he said. “It’s strange, this virus and all that is going on is scary, I hope it can be all over soon.

“It is very bad for racing. It’s not healthy, not healthy for anybody.”

For HK racegoers, the lockout will roll on to Wednesday’s Happy Valley meeting as well.

A deserted Happy Valley track

The confusion has led to the Hong Kong Jockey Club CEO Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges to make a public apology and added that the temporary closure could last from six to eight weeks.

“I would not be surprised if we had to have special measures for six to eight weeks,” he said. “I hope not, but I think if you look at history, that is probably likely.

“We have to be extremely careful and extremely conscious about what we do.

“Theoretically you could even reduce the crowd and have only those on course who are absolutely necessary.

“It could be only key personnel and owners who have horses, but I don’t think at this stage we have to go to such an extreme.

“The situation we have here is like a sit-down venue, it’s like any restaurant you go to.

“I would submit we are even more prudent.

“Everybody who comes has to disinfect their hands and we have a temperature measure.

“For everyone who comes, we know where they sit and who they are with.

“From a risk level, we think what we did was responsible.

“We wanted to provide our service to a lot of people who are passionate about it.

“I apologise for those people we could not accommodate, especially those at the OCBBs, but from a public health perspective it was a risk we would not like to take.

HK Jockey Club CEO Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges addresses the media

“That’s why we restricted the meeting only to people who had a prior booking”.

“We have applied significant measures to minimise any potential risk which could come through going to the races,” Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges said.

“When we looked at what we had to do, we are expecting that this health issue will last a significant period of time.

“It’s not a once-off, so the measures we employ are in a phased approach.

“We will, on a daily basis, look at the risk levels and if we have to take even stronger measures, but at the moment we are satisfied that what we have done is responsible.”

“The OCBBs have always [contributed] a percentage of 15 or 16 of turnover and it was down in exactly the same way,” Engelbrecht-Bresges said.

“We lost 15 or 16 per cent, but in the overall picture, it’s not about the financials, we wanted to provide an ongoing service to our customers.

“It is not only about us and turnover and tax, we have a significant number of staff who depend on racing for their income.

“If you closed down racing [on Monday], you would have closed down racing, I believe, for six to eight weeks. So we want to continue if we can.”

“Looking at this virus, it’s unknown how its spread, even if you don’t show any symptoms it could be transmitted. We are being more prudent and risk averse.

“I think the public sentiment is different [from SARS], so you have to adjust what you do in the different circumstances.

“It’s a very difficult time for Hong Kong and we think keeping one of the major [sources of] entertainment going is important.

“We know this new coronavirus is a significant risk but we have to manage risk, so we do it responsibly.”

So Happy Valley races on Wednesday night will go ahead, minus the race-going public.