There are concerns within Australian governments the infection rate could climb into the hundreds within weeks after the number of confirmed cases increased to 55 on Thursday.
Parramatta, where the NRL will start the season on March 12, is not far from a growing coronavirus cluster in Macquarie Park. Four cases have worked or lived within four kilometres of each other: an aged care worker and resident, a doctor at Ryde Hospital and a Macquarie University engineering lecturer.
NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg said the league was not jumping to any conclusions. “People will want to go to the worst-case scenario and it’s our job to make sure we are well planned,” he said.
“We have created a working group at the NRL led primarily by our chief medical officer, who is in contact with the federal government and the Australian Institute of Sport.”
The AFL on Wednesday moved its round 11 match between St Kilda and Port Adelaide from Shanghai to Melbourne over fears the virus will still not be under control in May. Round 1 will kick off on March 19 at the MCG.
“The advice from the government is that it is business as usual and that includes people attending major events or sporting matches,” a spokesman said. “The AFL will continue to monitor the situation.”
Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said Australians should watch developments but carry on with their normal lives.
“There is no reason to put a mask on when you are walking around the shops, there is no reason to stop going to football matches or community activities, there is no reason to delude the shelves of lavatory paper in the supermarkets,” he said.
The virus has forced the Italian football league to host matches behind closed doors until April and the government has closed schools and universities.
The country now has more than 3000 cases and 107 deaths, but the death rate of the at 1 per cent indicates the number of infections could be more than 10,000.
Increased travel screening measures will mean any Italian-based members of the Ferrari team travelling to the Melbourne Formula One Grand Prix will be forced to pass temperature checks, potentially excluding them for the first race of the season and putting the team’s participation in doubt.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has not ruled out further travel restrictions on Italy and Europe, stating the government “would be watching developments very closely”.
Mr Morrison has urged people to go on with their normal lives as the number of cases in Australia increases through community transmission but added “we all have a role to play” in containing the virus.
With Adrian Proszenko, Shane Wright
Eryk Bagshaw is an economics correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra