Italy’s top football league has postponed three matches scheduled for Sunday in the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto after the deaths of two people infected with the coronavirus.
On orders from the Italian government, the Serie A games between Inter Milan and Sampdoria, Atalanta and Sassuolo as well as Hellas Verona and Cagliari were called off.
Three other matches in Genoa, Turin and Rome on Sunday were due to go ahead as scheduled.
A dozen towns in northern Italy effectively went into lockdown on Saturday after the deaths of two people infected with the coronavirus and a growing cluster of cases with no direct links to the origin of the outbreak abroad.
“The government is working on urgent measures to decisively confront and contain the cases of coronavirus contagion,” read a letter from Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora to Italian Olympic Committee President Giovanni Malago shortly before midnight local time on Saturday.
“Following measures taken by the cabinet for protective reasons and maximum precaution, on orders of the government, I am asking you to suspend all sports events of every level and discipline planned for the Lombardy and Veneto regions on Sunday,” the letter said.
Already on Saturday, the Ascoli-Cremonese game in Serie B was postponed, as well as Piacenza-Sambenedettese in Serie C. Four Serie C games scheduled for Sunday have also been postponed.
On Thursday, Inter is also slated to host Ludogrets in the second leg of the Europa League Round of 32.
“It’s obvious that gatherings at sports events are among the events where the most difficulties could occur,” Spadafora said earlier Saturday in Rome at the Six Nations rugby game between Italy and Scotland, which was attended by 55,000 fans.
Sports events across China and Asia have also been suspended amid fears that the Tokyo Olympics, due to open in five months, could also be affected.
The secondary contagions prompted local authorities in the Lombardy and Veneto regions to close schools, businesses and restaurants and to cancel sporting events and Masses.
The mayor of Milan, Italy’s business capital and the regional capital of Lombardy, shuttered public offices.
A 78-year-old man infected with the virus died in Veneto. A postmortem on a 77-year-old woman in Lombardy came back positive, though it was not clear if illness from the virus caused her death.
Hundreds of residents and workers who came into contact with 54 people who tested positive for the virus in Italy were put into isolation pending results of their tests. Civil protection crews set up a tent camp outside a closed hospital in Veneto to screen medical staff for the virus.
In the town of Codogno, where the first patient identified in the northern cluster was in critical condition, closed supermarkets, restaurants and shops made the main street practically a ghost town. The few people out wore face masks, coveted items that had sold out in pharmacies.
Lombardy government authorities said the region had 39 confirmed cases, all somehow traceable to the first one involving a man who had not travelled to China.
Ten towns in Lombardy received orders to suspend nonessential activities and services.
The Veneto region reported 12 people with the virus, including the 78-year-old man who died late Friday. Two of the region’s confirmed infections were relatives of the man who died, Veneto regional president Luca Zaia said.