SYDNEY, Sept 17 (Reuters) - Major sporting events in Sydney will soon be played in front of crowds of up to 40,000 after the New South Wales government on Thursday announced a loosening of restrictions put in place to contain the new coronavirus.
In good news for the National Rugby League (NRL) as it approaches the climax of its season, as well as the Rugby Championship, larger venues will now be able to open to 50% of capacity instead of 25%.
From Oct. 1, Stadium Australia, the arena built for the 2000 Olympics, will be able to welcome 40,000 fans, the new Western Sydney Stadium in Parramatta 15,000 and the Sydney Cricket Ground 23,000.
"Our number one priority is the health and safety of the people of NSW, however it is no secret we're also focused on firing up the economy," state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said in a statement.
"Safely allowing more fans at in-demand major sporting events will bring enjoyment, employment and help stimulate the NSW economy."
New South Wales has been relatively successful in containing the virus with an average of around five new cases a day over the last couple of weeks, mostly arrivals from overseas or from known clusters around the state.
Fans will have to wear facemasks going into the stadiums but will be able to take them off inside, where they will be seated in "chequerboard" arrangements to allow physical distancing, the NSW government said.
The NRL, which has two more rounds of the regular season to complete before the playoffs, will almost certainly hold its Grand Final at Stadium Australia on Oct. 25.
Dates and venues for rugby union's Rugby Championship, which features Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina, have yet to be fixed after the decision to stage it mostly in New South Wales in November and December was made last week.
Test matches pitching the Wallabies against the All Blacks or the world champion Springboks would normally be expected to attract big crowds.
The NSW government said they would be holding discussions with the operators of smaller stadiums around the state with a view to finding a way to safely increase crowds at those venues.
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Peter Rutherford )