WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Travel restrictions to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus could have "some impact" on next year's America's Cup but it is too early to determine to what extent, New Zealand's government said on Thursday.
With Team New Zealand set to defend the trophy next March, challenging teams are unsure when they can send advance parties to Auckland to start preparations.
New infections have slowed to a trickle in New Zealand but its borders remain closed to all except returning citizens and permanent residents, who must undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine period.
Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford, who has responsibility for major events like the America's Cup, said there was still too much uncertainty to know when borders could be reopened.
"At this stage it is hard to know the extent to which COVID-19 will affect the 36th Americas Cup in Auckland, however there is likely to be some impact," Twyford said in a statement.
"The Government is highly motivated to see the 36th Americas Cup go ahead. However, critical factors including restrictions on gatherings, and any restrictions for borders both here and internationally still have to be worked through."
Two of the challenging syndicates have expressed concern about when the restrictions might be lifted.
"We don't know when we can come down to New Zealand," Britain's Team INEOS UK chief executive Grant Simmer told a Cruising Yacht Club of Australia podcast.
"We need to get a forward party there to set up the base and start things happening. The New Zealand Government has been silent."
The cancellation of warmup regattas in Britain and Italy had also created an issue for teams and their testing programmes.
American Magic syndicate head Terry Hutchinson told the New Zealand Herald the cancellations meant teams had to be in Auckland by July to trial their boats.
A series of warmup races are scheduled to be held in Auckland before a regatta for the four challengers takes place next January-February.
The America's Cup starts on March 6.
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Peter Rutherford)