New Zealand has seen its first postponement of a major sporting event due to the coronavirus outbreak, with next week's Piha Pro surfing event affected.
The event, which was set to feature some of the world's leading surfers including 11-time world champion American Kelly Slater, was due to start on Monday with the finals over the weekend.
The announcement came as part of the World Surf League's (WSL) decision to cancel or postpone all of their scheduled events in March, which included the Piha Pro and the first event of the Championship Tour season - Corona Open Gold Coast at Snapper Rocks in Australia.
Speaking to the Herald, Kiwi surfer Paige Hareb said she was hopeful that the WSL's return to New Zealand for the first time in more than five years could be rescheduled rather than simply cancelled.
"Even just in the cafe here (at Piha), the locals sounded disappointed. It's a bummer because it was looking like a good week for waves."
The WSL have been running events in Australia over the past week, and Kiwi competitor Ella Williams said she hadn't heard any talk of the virus affecting events over the coming weeks.
"There was nothing at all; I didn't hear anything. It's a bit of a surprise but I guess all the other sporting events across the world have ben getting called off as well, so I guess it was just a matter of time before they called our one off as well.
"It's just one of those things; you've just got to ride through it."
The Piha Pro and Piha Pro Junior were among 10 events postponed by the WSL, which included stops in Israel, Barbados, Portugal, Japan and Indonesia. A further three events were cancelled - two in Australia and one in Tahiti.
"Due to the rapidly evolving situation with Covid-19 and out of an abundance of caution for the safety of our athletes, fans, and staff, the World Surf League has made the decision to cancel all events yet to commence at all tour levels, worldwide for the remainder of March, including the opening event of the 2020 Championship Tour on the Gold Coast in Australia. Additionally, we are canceling the Papara Pro Open Tahiti," the WSL said in a statement.
"This decision is based on guidance from the World Health Organization, who has declared that Covid-19 is now a global pandemic, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, governments and local public health authorities where our events are being held.
"Coronavirus is having massive consequences for sporting events and gatherings of all kinds around the world, and we are no different.
"We did not take this decision lightly as we are aware that it has a significant impact on the surfing community. However, the health and safety of our athletes, fans, and staff are paramount. From the standpoint of social responsibility, we also take very seriously the role our events might play in accelerating the spread of the virus. We've been in close contact with our athletes and we feel strongly that this is the right thing to do right now."
The Piha Pro was set to welcome an impressive field to New Zealand, including 11-time men's world champion Kelly Slater, 2015 men's champion Adriano de Souza, as well as four-time and current women's champion Carissa Moore. Slater arrived in New Zealand earlier this week.
The event was one of few set on the inaugural WSL Challenger Series, which featured the qualifying series events with the most points on offer for surfers hoping to qualify for next year's CT.
Organisers of the event issued a statement, which confirmed the intention was for the WSL to return to Piha, and updates would be provided once more information was available.
"We apologise for the inconvenience caused, however we ask everyone to support the decision of the World Surf League on this matter of public safety," the statement said.
"This decision is not a reflection of expected risk around the event in New Zealand, but is a decision of the global body to take the necessary steps to help prevent the spread of COVID-19."