Relax! AFL players unfazed by coronavirus outbreak

MELBOURNE, Australia -- If you trust doctors, scientists and mathematicians, the novel coronavirus outbreak is going to get far worse before we see any real improvement.

COVID-19, as it's officially known, is a new strain of coronavirus which first appeared in Wuhan, China late last year and has since spread around the globe. It's a virus which is causing illnesses ranging from the common cold to far more serious respiratory disease and death.

As of March 11th, there are over 118,000 known cases of coronavirus in 117 countries, while more than 4,200 have succumbed to the illness. There have been 103 reported cases in Australia and three deaths.

The sporting world has already been thrown into chaos as the virus spreads out of control. Europe's top football leagues have been forced to postpone and abandon games, while a number of tennis and golf events in Asia and North America have been called off as well.

Six Nations rugby has also been impacted, as has MotoGP and Formula One which cancelled its Chinese Grand Prix back in February and recently announced March's Bahrain Grand Prix would take place behind closed doors. A massive cloud of doubt currently hangs over the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as to whether or not it will be able to go ahead as planned.

But while panic seems to be spreading as quickly as the virus, a host of AFL players have urged league CEO Gillon McLachlan not to overreact just yet.

"At the moment it's far and away off our minds," Sydney captain Josh Kennedy told ESPN. "I don't think anything drastic is necessary at this point it time. I'm not even sure what you could do."

During pre-season, clubs have been educating their players and staff on the virus, how it can spread and measures to take in order to reduce the risk of infection.

Research has shown the coronavirus spreads mainly through coughs and sneezes, though it can also be transferred from surfaces. The best way to prevent infection is with frequent hand-washing, regularly cleaning surfaces and avoiding close contact with people who are sick. There is no vaccine currently available for coronavirus, though researchers are working on one and hope to begin testing soon.

"We got shot an email the other day in regards to washing your hands and being hygienically professional with everything you do," Brisbane skipper Dayne Zorko told ESPN. "We'll go off what the doctors say.

"I'm sure there's plans in place if things intensify, but at the moment it seems to be pretty well held. From a players' point of view, we're certainly not worried. We expect the season to go ahead. We expect Round 1 to go ahead and I can't see any reason why it won't."

Last week the AFL announced the annual China game in Shanghai between Port Adelaide and St Kilda would be moved to Marvel Stadium in Melbourne. Travel restrictions to and from China, combined with the fact the coronavirus is still uncontained, meant it was an inevitable decision.

Power captain Tom Jonas says it's a blow to lose the trip but understands the call had to be made.

"I love the China trip, it's great for spending time with each other and building the connections," Jonas told ESPN. "For that not to happen is a little disappointment, but this year is a bit different. We're pretty aware of what was happening with the virus."

There has been some suggestion the AFL could follow in the footsteps of Italy's Serie A and play league matches with no spectators in attendance, something Zorko believes would be a "bizarre" experience.

Fan-free sporting events is also something the Olympics is considering implementing later in the year if the coronavirus is still an issue, but AFL players say it won't have much of an impact.

"We'll continue to play footy whether there's crowds or no crowds," Geelong midfielder Mitch Duncan told ESPN. "But at this point in time the more people we can play in front of the better."

North Melbourne captain Jack Ziebell echoed Duncan's thoughts.

"It wouldn't bother me," Ziebell said in regards to playing games at empty stadiums. "I'd be happy to play anywhere, any time. It's our job to do that and it's still four points and still playing for your club."