Indian Wells tennis postponed after coronavirus confirmed

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Venus Williams returns a shot to Christina McHale at the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament. (Mark J. Terrill/AP)

The BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament, set to begin this week, has been postponed after a case of coronavirus was confirmed in the Coachella Valley.

The Riverside County Public Health Department declared a public health emergency for the desert cities 110 miles east of Los Angeles, including Indian Wells where the ATP and WTA tours were to play the two-week tournament starting Wednesday.

"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 Sunday. "It is not in the public interest of fans, players and neighbouring areas for this tournament to proceed. We all have to join together to protect the community from the coronavirus outbreak."

The event typically draws upwards of 450,000 fans. This year’s field included Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff.

Tournament director Tommy Haas said organizers are prepared to play the event on different dates and will explore options. The decision to postpone was based on the guidance of medical professionals, the Centers for Disease Control and state of California officials, tournament officials said.

Refunds for this year’s event or a credit toward next year’s tournament are being offered.

Riverside County health officials said the individual with the first case of locally acquired coronavirus is being treated at Eisenhower Health in nearby Rancho Mirage after testing positive. The person is not being identified because of confidentiality rules.

Heath officials are following up on people who may have been exposed and an investigation is underway to find out how the person contracted the disease.

It’s the second case recorded in Riverside County. A cruise ship passenger from Riverside County was diagnosed with COVID-19 recently and is recovering at a Northern California medical facility. That person hasn’t returned home since leaving the Diamond Princess ship.

"We have always known this was a possibility," said Dr. Cameron Kaiser, Riverside County public health officer. "We have been planning for weeks and are prepared to take the necessary steps to protect the health of our local community."

A charity event featuring Nadal set for Tuesday night at Indian Wells Tennis Garden has been cancelled, tournament spokesman Matt Van Tuinen said.

Nadal was set to be joined by defending BNP Paribas Open champion Dominic Thiem, Daniil Medvedev, Matteo Berrettini, Stan Wawrinka, Milos Raonic and American Taylor Fritz for the Eisenhower Cup, a $150,000 winner-take-all event.

Earlier in the week, officials had announced several measures to protect players, fans and staff at the tennis tournament.

Ball kids were going to have to wear gloves and not touch the towels of players on the court. Organized player and fan interaction was also going to be limited at the tournament which is informally referred to as the fifth Grand Slam because of its popularity with players and fans, many of whom come from overseas. Besides ball kids, restaurant and food supply workers were going to wear gloves as well as volunteers taking tickets at entrances. Over 250 hand sanitizing stations were set up throughout the venue.

The LPGA Tour is scheduled to play the first women’s golf major of the year, the ANA Inspiration, early next month in Rancho Mirage."

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