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Sporting events in Italy to be halted because of virus

A view of the empty stadium during the Serie A soccer match between AC Milan and Genoa at the San Siro stadium, in Milan, Italy, Sunday, March 8, 2020. Serie A played on Sunday despite calls from Italys sports minister and players association president to suspend the games in Italys top soccer division. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)
A view of the empty stadium during the Serie A soccer match between AC Milan and Genoa at the San Siro stadium, in Milan, Italy, Sunday, March 8, 2020. Serie A played on Sunday despite calls from Italys sports minister and players association president to suspend the games in Italys top soccer division. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

LONDON – Sports ground to a halt throughout Italy late Monday night when Premier Giuseppe Conte announced that games and travel will be banned nationwide.

“There’s no reason for the games to continue,” Conte said. “The fans will have to deal with it. We won’t even allow gyms to be used.”

A new government decree that will come into effect Tuesday and last until April 3 will stop games in Italy’s top soccer division and preparatory events for the Tokyo Olympics.

Events around the world have been affected by the spreading virus, including Champions League soccer matches and Japan's professional baseball season. Late Sunday, one of the biggest tennis tournaments in the world was postponed.

Italy’s top soccer division had resumed on Sunday with five games played in empty stadiums. Twelve rounds remain, with eight-time defending champion Juventus holding a one-point lead over Lazio.

Serie A has not been canceled since World War II.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover. In mainland China, where the virus first exploded, more than 80,000 people have been diagnosed and more than 58,000 have so far recovered.

Sassuolo's 3-0 win over Brescia inside an empty stadium on Monday was almost certainly the last Serie A game for several weeks.

Sassuolo striker Francesco Caputo sent a comforting message after scoring the first of his two goals. He displayed a sign that read “It will all be OK. #Stayathome” in Italian.

Anticipating the government's decree, the Italian Olympic Committee said earlier that the decree will not include international competition “for clubs or national teams,” since it does not govern those. Juventus, Napoli and Atalanta are each competing in the Champions League, while Inter Milan and Roma are still in the Europa League.

But after Conte's announcement, it seemed likely that games like Juventus-Lyon in the Champions League on March 17 would have to be postponed or moved to another country.

The Italian swimming federation said it was withdrawing its teams from international events and canceled an Olympic qualifying meet scheduled for next week in Riccione.

The Tokyo Games are scheduled to begin in 4½ months. More than 300 Italian athletes qualified for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

In France, police said that the Champions League match between Paris Saint-Germain and Borussia Dortmund at Parc des Princes will be played without fans.

It is the second of the four matches in the competition this week to be played in an empty stadium. Spanish authorities previously recommended restrictions on games involving teams from areas in Italy with high numbers of virus cases and said the Valencia-Atalanta match on Tuesday will take place without fans in attendance.

Leipzig's match against Tottenham on Tuesday and Liverpool's home game against Atletico Madrid on Wednesday are expected to be played with fans.

Wednesday's game in Paris will be the first match with no fans at the Parc des Princes in 10 years. The last time it happened, in March 2010, the decision was taken following crowd trouble during a match between PSG and French rival Marseille.

PSG, which lost the first leg 2-1, said it took note of the decision and said the club remains “fully mobilized to organize the match in the best possible conditions."

In the French league, the match between Lyon and visiting Reims on Friday will also be played without fans.

France has banned gatherings of more than 1,000 people. The country reported 1,126 cases of the virus as of Sunday, up 19% from the day before and the second largest number of cases in Europe after Italy. So far, 19 people in France have died.

In Slovakia, all sports events will be halted starting on Tuesday. The suspension will include games in the top soccer and ice hockey leagues.

The virus also forced the postponement of the Six Nations rugby match between France and Ireland. French sports minister Roxana Maracineanu said the decision to postpone was taken after discussions with tournament organizers and the French rugby federation.

The game was due to take place on Saturday at the Stade de France. A new date has yet to be announced.

In Germany, it will be up to local authorities to decide if fans can attend matches this weekend in the top two divisions, the league's organizers said.

Last weekend’s Bundesliga matches ahead as planned with fans, though Borussia Mönchengladbach refunded tickets for supporters from an area affected by the virus after asking them not to attend the game.

Local authorities in the Swiss city of Basel refused permission for the city's soccer team to host Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League on March 19. UEFA has not yet confirmed a venue for the match.

Even the flame-lighting ceremony for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is being affected. Spectators will be kept away from the event in Ancient Olympia on Thursday, the Greek Olympic committee. Only 100 accredited guests will be allowed to attend.

Also, World Cup qualifying games in Asia were formally postponed until at least September, FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation said Monday, but matches could still go ahead on schedule if all relevant parties agree.

Japanese officials earlier postponed the start of the 12-team professional baseball league season. The season was to open on March 20. Japan's professional league had been playing its preseason games without fans because of the virus.

“I personally believe that we have no choice but to postpone at this stage," Japanese league commissioner Atsushi Saito said.

The announcement to cancel the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament in Indian Wells, California, came after many players were already in the desert practicing. Qualifying matches were to begin Monday, with women's main draw matches starting Wednesday and the men's draw beginning Thursday.

“We're here and still deciding what's next,” Rafael Nadal wrote on Twitter. “So sad for all that is happening around the world with this situation. Hopefully soon solutions from the authorities. Stay all well and safe.”

No restrictions on sport have been introduced yet in Britain where governing bodies and broadcasters met with government officials on Monday to discuss contingency plans if fans need to be banned from events or games are postponed.

But the English Football Association on Monday canceled an annual gathering for its staff of around 800 that was due to be held on Thursday at St. George's Park, a hotel and training facility complex in central England. It is a precautionary move as the coronavirus spreads.

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