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Coronavirus: Cycling's UAE Tour cancelled after positive tests

Tour de France winner Chris Froome and star sprinter Mark Cavendish among riders now being tested for COVID-19
Media reports said the official race hotel in Abu Dhabi was sealed off late on Thursday (AFP)

The final two stages of the UAE Tour, featuring some of the world's leading riders, has been cancelled due to two Italian participants testing positive for coronavirus, the Abu Dhabi Sports Council has said.

The council did not release specific names, but said that all of the race participants, staff and organisers were being screened for the flu-like virus. 

Four-times Tour de France winner Chris Froome and star sprinter Mark Cavendish are among the riders who will now be tested for the coronavirus.

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"The decision has been taken to ensure protection of all the race's participants," the council said in a statement on Thursday, adding that "safety comes at the top of all priorities".

Several riders had earlier used social media to confirm they were being tested and that the event had been cancelled.

"It's a shame that the #UAETour has been cancelled but public health must come first," Froome, who was making his comeback from injury at the race, said.

"We are all awaiting testing and will remain at the hotel until further notice. I hope those affected make a speedy recovery and there aren't any further cases #coronavirus."

'Somebody knocked on my door in the middle of the night'

Several teams commented on the premature end of the UCI World Tour race, which had started on Sunday.

"We have taken note of the cancellation of the UAE Tour due to the occurrence of the coronavirus," the Dutch Jumbo-Visma team said on its Twitter feed.

"We wish all the people involved the very best, awaiting further developments."

The Italian Vini Zabu-KTM team said on Twitter: "In the hotel the local authorities are testing all the riders and the staff members #Coronavirus."

Israel's Omer Goldstein, riding for the Israel Start-Up Nation team, posted a video on Twitter from the hotel.

"I go to sleep like every night and somebody knocked on my door in the middle of the night and said that the race is cancelled," he said.

"We were surprised so we asked why and they said two people in the race organisation, or from the riders, we don't know, had the sickness, the coronavirus."

Race hotel in Abu Dhabi sealed off

Guests at two Abu Dhabi hotels who interacted with the two Italian cyclists have been placed under quarantine in the hotels, WAM, the state news agency of the UAE, reported on Friday.

Other people who also interacted with the two Italians on Yas island have been isolated at home, the agency said, citing the health department of Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital.

Media reports said the official race hotel in Abu Dhabi was sealed off late on Thursday.

A report in Cycling News said riders, staff and journalists were not allowed to leave pending health checks.

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The situation could have implications for this month's world track championships in Berlin. 

Danish rider Michael Morkov was at the UAE Tour until Wednesday and was due to join the Danish team in the German capital on Thursday, ahead of Sunday's madison race.

A spokesperson from the British Cycling team in Berlin said the team doctor was liaising with the UCI medical team, Reuters reported.

The new coronavirus, COVID-19, has infected more than 80,000 people and killed nearly 3,000, mostly in China.

There have been cases throughout the Middle East, including Iran, Bahrain, Kuwait and Iraq.

The UAE banned all travel to Iran and Thailand over fears about the spread of the virus on 24 February. 

It recorded the first of its 13 cases when four members of a Chinese family were diagnosed on 28 January.

The last two stages of the UAE Tour had been scheduled to be staged from Al Ruwais to Al Mirfa (158 km) on Saturday and Al Maryah Island to Abu Dhabi (127 km) on Sunday.