The English Football League has decided to suspend all matches until the start of next month due to the coronavirus epidemic, it has been announced.
There have been 596 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United Kingdom, with ten deaths announced, but health officials fear there could actually be up to 10,000 infected people.
With sporting events around the globe being postponed at a rapid rate, there were strong calls for the Premier League and EFL to follow suit ahead of this weekend’s fixtures.
And at a meeting for the EFL board on Friday morning, it was decided to suspend all football until April 3 – the Friday after the already scheduled international break.
The Premier League and the Women’s Super League have also been suspended until April 3 following news that Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and Chelsea forward Callum Hudson-Odoi have contracted the virus.
An EFL statement read: “Having considered the increased number of cases affecting Club Players and staff, the Board were unanimous in their approach and it has been determined that all football activity scheduled to take place this weekend & until April 3 2020 will be postponed.
“For the avoidance of any doubt this includes all matches in the Championship, League One and League Two, as well as all Academy and youth team fixtures and will take us beyond the next international round.
“The arrangement of training programmes for professional players in the interim period remains a matter for each individual Club and we advise all Academy training is suspended until 3 April 2020.
“In addition to this the League instructs all Clubs to suspend indefinitely all non-essential business which include, but are not limited to, player appearances, commercial activities training ground visits and fan meetings.”
The Government announced a move into the ‘delay’ phase of combating the virus on Thursday but have not placed any restrictions on mass gatherings.
However, it now seems infection among competitors themselves will lead to sporting activity being halted.
In Scotland, gatherings will be limited to 500 people from Monday.
The top two divisions of French football have been suspended indefinitely, the Ligue de Football Professionnel announced on Friday morning.
European football’s governing body UEFA announced on Friday that all next week’s Champions League and Europa League ties had been postponed, while England’s cricket tour of Sri Lanka was cut short.
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Leeds Rhinos on Friday announced they were not travelling to Spain for Saturday’s match against Catalans Dragons on medical grounds, with a member of their squad self-isolating after showing symptoms of possible coronavirus.
Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix has been cancelled following a member of the McLaren team testing positive for Covid-19 and discussions are taking place over whether the season start should be delayed until June. There are reports that the Bahrain Grand Prix, already due to be staged behind closed doors, would also be cancelled.
UEFA will also discuss the possibility of delaying Euro 2020 until the summer of 2021 when it holds an emergency meeting of its member associations via video conference on Tuesday.
It will also need to make some tough decisions regarding the Champions League and Europa League, which has been directly affected by players involved contracting the virus but has also suffered from the travel restrictions imposed across Europe as a consequence of the outbreak.