By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE, Oct 19 (Reuters) - Officials in Australia's southern state of Victoria have warned football-mad fans in locked-down Melbourne not to throw parties during the AFL's "Grand Final" on Saturday to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The AFL Grand Final, the championship match of the top flight of Australian Rules, is one of the country's biggest sporting occasions, with people flooding pubs and backyard barbecues to watch the game.
Saturday's decider between defending champions Richmond Tigers and the Geelong Cats will have a different mood this year, with pubs and restaurants closed in Melbourne and people banned from visiting friends and families at their homes.
"It does present a risk if people are not following the advice that we have given all along," Victoria's chief health officer, Brett Sutton, told reporters on Monday.
"If we were at that point where we thought we could recommend those indoor household gatherings we would be saying that. It is not quite there yet.
"In a way, it is a little bit unfortunate that this is the timing of the Grand Final."
The Grand Final is being played at the Gabba in Brisbane and away from Melbourne for the first time in its history, because of COVID-19.
With Richmond one of Melbourne's oldest teams and the Cats based in the nearby port of Geelong, fans and hospitality businesses had hoped curbs might be eased to allow large gatherings to watch the match.
But Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews torpedoed those hopes on Sunday, despite new infections slowing to a trickle.
Andrews' cautious approach was slammed by business groups and media pundits, with federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg calling it the "greatest insult" to the people of Victoria.
But Andrews hit back at critics and defended his government's "roadmap" out of lockdown.
"These are not easy decisions, they are decisions that have to be carefully weighed up and that is exactly what we have done," he told reporters.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)
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