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China coronavirus: Sha Tin’s Lunar New Year races to go ahead, but fans locked out

Monday’s Lunar New Year race meeting at Sha Tin will go ahead, but the fans will be locked out as the Jockey Club takes extreme measures to reduce the risk of spreading the Wuhan coronavirus.

The meeting is traditionally one of the biggest on the calendar – last year 105,716 attended across the two tracks – but only patrons with existing bookings (there are about 8,000), owners with horses running and staff will be allowed on course.

Those who do head to the track will be required to undergo temperature checks on their way in to ensure everyone’s safety.

These arrangements will also be in place for Wednesday night’s Happy Valley card and will carry on indefinitely.

“In the current situation, we’ve done a risk assessment and believe this is the most prudent course of action,” Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges said.

This is the full statement from the Jockey Club:

“The Hong Kong Jockey Club has been closely following the development of the novel coronavirus. We are also well aware of public concerns over the health risks associated with crowds and the potential impact on the upcoming Chinese New Year race day scheduled for 27 January 2020.

“With this in mind, the club has carefully reviewed arrangements for Chinese New Year race day, taking account of community views as well as the interests of customers and employees.

We are particularly aware that Chinese New Year race day is a very important part of

community life during the Chinese New Year holidays, providing racing and betting entertainment to around one million racing fans.

“The cancellation of the Chinese New Year race day would therefore not only impact those who choose to visit the racecourses but all those who stay at home or elsewhere to enjoy the races on TV or via other platforms. Indeed, some 800,000 fans, that is the overwhelming majority of fans, hold a betting account with the club and are able to participate in racing outside the racecourses via online and phone platforms.

“In addition, the Chinese New Year race day creates jobs for as many as 11,000 part-time employees and provides additional income for duty racing staff. Any cancellation of the race meeting would therefore have an adverse economic impact on our employees. There will also be impacts on horse owners, trainers and jockeys, who will be unable to race or ride horses.

“Considering all of these factors, the club has decided that Chinese New Year race day should go ahead, but with a reduced attendance and with measures in place to strengthen hygiene protection. On the day, apart from essential parties such as horse owners, trainers, jockeys, club officials and stewards etc, only those customers who already have a prior reservation at racecourse restaurants will be admitted. Patrons who wish to cancel their bookings will be given full refund. Other racecourse facilities such as betting halls, media halls and digital zone will be closed. This means that approximately 8,000 customers will attend the race meeting, these customers being distributed in 54 restaurants and boxes spread across two racecourses. According to medical experts, the level of health risk is not higher than visiting restaurants in shopping malls. All customers will receive temperature screening before entry and will be advised to wear medical masks.

“In consequence of this arrangement, the number of part-time employees working at the racecourses will be reduced from 11,000 to 3,000. Like all staff working on the day, these will receive temperature screening before entry and will be advised to wear medical masks. The remaining 8,000 part-time staff rostered, but not required to report duty, will receive a discretionary payment in compensation for their loss of earnings.

“With respect to off-course betting branches (OCBB), to avoid potential crowding the club has decided that they will not open for business on Chinese New Year race day. However, all Interactive, Telebet and 1886 Telebet Automated services will continue to function as normal.

“The Mark Six Chinese New Year Snowball draw originally scheduled for 28 January will be postponed to 1 February. All accepted bets remain valid.

“The above arrangements for racecourses and OCBBs will continue for all subsequent race meetings until further notice. The club will continue to monitor the situation of the novel coronavirus on a day-to-day basis and in line with this will determine if further measures are needed.”

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