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Government orders ban on travel to Penn Relays...Fate of Champs to be decided at key stakeholders meeting today

Senior staff reporter

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

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The Jamaican Government has put a travel ban on all schools to the Penn Relays in the US, while a decision is expected within 24 hours to decide the fate of the annual Boys' and Girls' Athletics Championships set to begin March 24.

On a day when the island announced its first case of the coronavirus (COVID-19), Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton yesterday stated his Government's position on public gatherings.

The COVID-19 has spread its tentacles to Philadelphia, where the annual relay carnival is staged, forcing the closure of several schools there affecting some 30,000 students, informing the decision to ban travel to the US state for the three-day meet.

“I have confirmed that in terms of the Penn Relays, the Ministry of Education through Cabinet instructions, has advised schools not to participate in the Penn Relays this year,” said Dr Tufton as he addressed a press conference at the Ministry of Health in New Kingston yesterday.

“Schools by now should have been advised that the Government is taking a position to not participate in the Penn Relays this year because that travel and the location could involve levels of risks that we would like to discourage and we are putting an advisory out against that travel,” he noted.

The 126th staging of the Penn Relays is scheduled to begin on April 23, and is a sporting event that Jamaican high schools have competed in since 1964.

It is the largest relay meet in the world and annually draws over 15,000 athletes and 110,000 spectators. Olympic medallists, world record holders, and competitors from elementary schools to masters' events have all competed at the Penn Relays.

Meanwhile, the popular five-day Boys' and Girls' Athletics Championships set for March 24-29 may also be caught in the cross hairs of the preventative protocols in response to the COVID-19.

“As it relates to Boys' and Girls' Champs, there is a meeting scheduled between the organisers, the Ministry of Sports and the Ministry of Education and myself and the main sponsor GraceKennedy of course, where a decision will be taken and that decision should be taken within 24 hours,” said Dr Tufton.

He continued: “But needless to say, the fact that we now have an imported case it elevates the concerns as it relates to public gatherings and that could apply to all major public gatherings for the time being.

“We will comment further on Boys' and Girls' Champs and any other gathering in the days coming,” he added.

Dr Tufton said the patient is a Jamaican female who had travelled from the United Kingdom. She arrived in the island on March 4, presented to the public health system on March 9, and has been in isolation since then.

The deadly virus, which originated in China, has derailed a number of sporting events worldwide.

Meanwhile, President of the Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA) Keith Wellington, said he cannot comment on Tufton's pronouncement as he was scheduled to have a meeting with him and the Sports Minister Olivia Grange yesterday.

Furthermore, the press launch of the GraceKennedy Boys' and Girls' Athletics Championships set for National Stadium today has been postponed, which could be seen as a clear indicator that the popular sporting event could become a casualty of the coronavirus outbreak.

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