Crowd limits lifted for Sydney racing festival
A deal has been struck to allow thousands more racegoers trackside for The Everest with a special easing of restrictions for the world's richest turf race to boost the state's economy.
Health orders were signed late Friday to create a special exemption so 11,000 racegoers can attend Royal Randwick next Saturday for the signature event - more than double the current arrangements.
The public health order formalises a limited exemption on COVID restrictions for three race days, including the Golden Eagle at Rosehill, to boost events in the state.
However, the arrangements still fall short of a push by senior business figures and cabinet ministers to boost event numbers even further and match other states by allowing one person per two square metres.
Racing boss Peter V'landys, who has led the state in ensuring the survival of major events through the pandemic, continues to urge the government to examine greater capacity options when the strong data on NSW COVID infection rates warrants it.
Jobs Minister Stuart Ayres secured the exemptions for the race days with a series of COVID-safe plans developed by the Australian Turf Club approved by NSW Health.
Under the plan, close to 11,000 people will be allowed at Randwick for The Everest on October 17 and 6000 people at Rosehill Racecourse for the Golden Eagle on October 31.
An exemption has also been struck to allow 11,000 people at Randwick on Melbourne Cup day, almost certainly exceeding any Victorian event.
Without the exemptions, the Randwick events would be limited to 5000 people and Rosehill to 3000.
Under the plan, all racegoers will be allocated a seat to ensure safety. They will be asked to remain in their seat except when visiting hospitality areas for food or drink purchases or using the rest rooms.
The indoor sections of Royal Randwick remain limited to 2161 people. Racing officials would still like that figure to be lifted to 5000 people with strong safety mechanisms in place.
Mr V'landys welcomed the easing of restrictions, but said he hoped to continue working to move further ahead. "We're appreciative with what the government has done and we would like to continue working with them on checking the data on community infections and moving towards lifting the one to four square metre rule in favour of one person per two square metres."
Mr Ayres said stimulating the economy was a key goal of NSW's COVID recovery plan. "Spring racing is such an important part of the Sydney events calendar and it's great that more people will be able to attend in a COVID-safe way," he said.
"COVID has had a major impact on our events sector and these changes will be a welcome boost to this critical sector of the NSW economy."
Racing Minister Kevin Anderson said the $2.6 billion racing industry was a key economic driver for NSW.
"Racing has been an unsung hero of COVID-19 in supporting thousands of jobs thought the pandemic and the increased crowds for the Everest, the Golden Eagle and Cup Day stands to be a celebration of the incredible shape our state's thoroughbred racing industry is in despair these unprecedented challenges," he said.
ATC chief Jamie Barkley said the turf club would work closely with Racing NSW to ensure a safe experience trackside.
"The eyes of the racing world will be fixed on Sydney and Spring Racing means it's our time to shine."
Originally published as And we're off! COVID crowd limits lifted for Sydney racing festival