Buri Ram race put off over Covid-19
Anutin insists event hasn't been cancelled
The Thailand Grand Prix, scheduled to take place in Buri Ram later this month, has been postponed indefinitely due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, the government announced on Monday.
The decision came a day after the MotoGP class at this week's season-opening Qatar Grand Prix was axed.
"The safety of the people is the most important thing," Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said.
"This also shows that the government is serious about tackling the [coronavirus] problem."
The third edition of the Thailand Grand Prix was scheduled for March 22 and Anutin, who is also chairman of the Thailand Grand Prix organising committee, insisted the event was postponed and not cancelled.
"I don't say it's cancelled. I just say it is postponed until time allows us to do [the event]," said Anutin.
"It's because of the coronavirus. We need to postpone it today until further notice."
He added: "The committee decided to postpone the race due to the wide spread of Covid-19 around the world.
"People who attend, racers and teams could come from at-risk countries. Thailand has to postpone it for the safety of Thai people until the situation is better."
The first two editions of the Thailand Grand Prix were among the most popular MotoGP races.
Last week, Thailand Grand Prix organisers, including Anutin, were upbeat at a press conference, pledging extra health measures such as temperature checks, face masks and hand sanitisers.
But on Sunday, the Health Ministry said a 35-year-old Thai man passed away due to complications caused by the coronavirus.
"Things change every day and it has become pandemic," Anutin told AFP on Monday.
"We have to go along with the circumstances worldwide and it [postponement] is in the best interests of the nation as well as the participants."
The move means both of the season's first two races have been shelved. The next race on the schedule is in Austin, Texas, on April 5.
MotoGP's official website confirmed the postponement later yesterday.
"FIM [the International Motorcycling Federation], IRTA [International Road-Racing Teams Association] and Dorna [the commercial rights holder to MotoGP] are currently evaluating if an alternative date is possible for the event later this season," said the MotoGP website.
Rider Marc Marquez, who last year won his sixth MotoGP world title in Buri Ram, tweeted: "I hope to see all the Thai fans soon!"
As the coronavirus has spread, Italy has become the hardest-hit European country with 34 deaths and more than 1,600 confirmed cases.
Italian riders play a "vital role in the championship", said the FIM on Sunday following the cancellation of the MotoGP race in Qatar, which is restricting arrivals from Italy.
Six riders in the elite class are Italians, including seven-time world champion Valentino Rossi and 2019 runner-up Andrea Dovizioso, while Ducati and Aprilia are leading Italian manufacturers.
The Moto2 and Moto3 races in Qatar will go ahead as planned.
"Obviously it's a big shame to have to cancel this first race of the season, as we were all really ready to start, and so were the fans," said Suzuki team boss and Italian native Davide Brivio.
"But at this time the most important thing is the safety of the people, and we have to respect the decision made by the local authorities and by the MotoGP officials.
French rider Fabio Quartararo, who will replace Rossi at the Yamaha factory team in 2021, said he had been ready to get the season under way.
"I was waiting for the first race since the end of last year," the 20-year-old tweeted. afp/bangkok post