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EU health chiefs plan coronavirus summit as sports events face disruption

Milan's Duomo was closed following the coronavirus outbreak as the northern region of Lombardy went into lockdown..
Milan's Duomo was closed following the coronavirus outbreak as the northern region of Lombardy went into lockdown.. REUTERS/Flavio Lo Scalzo

EU health ministers announced on Friday night they will meet next week to thrash out a plan to combat the spread of the coronavirus. The move came as organisers of sporting and leisure events throughout the continent declared cancellations, postponements or closed stadiums due to the outbreak.

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Just hours before a European Commission spokesman said on Twitter that the health chiefs would gather next Friday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) upgraded the global risk.

"We have now increased our assessment of the risk of spread and the risk of impact of COVID-19 to very high at global level," said WHO boss Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

In Italy, where the largest number of cases in Europe has emerged, five football matches in the first division - including Sunday's top of the table clash between Juventus and Inter Milan - will be played behind closed doors.

Suspension

The Swiss government on Friday said it was suspending all events in the country involving more than 1,000 participants. All football matches in the first division have also been postponed.

In England, Steve Bruce, the Newcastle United manager, revealed on Friday that the club had introduced a handshake ban to protect against the spread of the virus.

"There's a ritual here that everybody shakes hands with everybody as soon as we see each other every morning," said Bruce ahead of the Premier League game against Burnley.

Ban

"We've stopped that on the advice of the doctor. "We're like everybody else. We're glued to the TV for where it's going to go next and let's hope it doesn't get any worse in this country."

Outside Europe, Japan's Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, urged organisers of major events to consider their cancellation as he called for schools to close from 2 March for several weeks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Authorities have said the coming two to three weeks will be critical in determining whether they can stem the outbreak of the virus, which has infected nearly 200 people in the country and been linked to the deaths of three.

"It's extremely important to prevent one patient cluster from creating another and we think we should take thorough measures," Abe said.

Path

Sanzar's Super Rugby competition comprising teams from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina and Japan responded to Abe's call on Friday.

Two home games of the Sunwolves franchise have been relocated from Japan to Australia.

The Sunwolves, who are in New Zealand for a match on Saturday in Wellington against the Hurricanes, were scheduled to play the Australian outfit Brumbies on 8 March in Osaka.

However the game will be played in Wollongong, south of Sydney, on 10 March. The match against the Crusaders from New Zealand which was due for Tokyo will take place in Brisbane on 14 March.

Organisation

"It was fairly clear that we had to revamp the calendar to follow the directives of the Japanese government and health authorities," said Sanzar chief Andy Marinos.

Authorities in Japan face further pressure to eradicate the virus. Tokyo is due to host the Olympic Games from 24 July for just over two weeks.

Thomas Bach, the IOC president, told Kyodo news agency: "The priority is to ensure the qualification procedure and protecting the safety of athletes at the same time."

He added: "This is what we're doing in cooperation with the Japanese authorities, the WHO, the Chinese olympic committee and many national olympic committees."

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