Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Monday night announced the unprecedented suspension of all sporting events in the country, including its top-flight Serie A football league, until April 3.

Italy is grappling with the coronavirus outbreak – it is not just the hardest-hit country in Europe, but also the second-most affected nation in the world, behind China.

The Covid-19 contagion originated from the city of Wuhan. As of yesterday, there were 9,172 cases in Italy, with 463 deaths.

The final Serie A match before the government announcement saw Sassuolo beat Brescia 3-0 behind closed doors in Reggio Emilia on Monday night. After opening the scoring, Sassuolo’s Francesco Caputo held up a handwritten message on piece of paper, urging fans: “Everything will be fine. Stay at home.”

A few hours later, Mr Conte used similar words as he announced a countrywide lockdown.

“I am going to sign a decree that can be summarised as follows: ‘I stay at home’,” he said in a televised address.

The unprecedented measures limiting travel and banning public gatherings across the country of more than 60 million people include the closure of schools and the suspension of sports competitions.

“There is no reason why matches and sporting events should continue and I am thinking of the football championship,” said Mr Conte.

“I’m sorry, but all the fans must take note of it, we will not even allow gyms to be used for sports activities.”

Earlier on Monday, Italy’s National Olympic Committee, which has authority over all national sports federations, had recommended “sporting activities at all levels” be suspended until April 3 to help contain the virus outbreak. It called for a government decree to enforce the request.

With 26 rounds of games played and 12 left, eight-time defending champions Juventus lead the Scudetto race with 63 points, one ahead of Lazio, while Inter Milan are third on 54, but have a game in hand.

There will now be questions over how the season will conclude.

At least three rounds of matches will need to be rearranged after April 3 before the end of the season, scheduled for May 24.

There is little room for manoeuvring due to Euro 2020 starting on June 12. There are also doubts that the quadrennial tournament, of which Rome is one of the 12 host cities, will go ahead.

The decree does, however, allow for the possibility of organising matches under international jurisdiction behind closed doors, such as ties in the Champions League and Europa League.

Juventus are due to host Lyon in the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie in Turin next week. Inter Milan will welcome Spanish La Liga side Getafe in the Europa League tomorrow while Roma will host Sevilla a week later.

All those games are set to be played in empty stadiums as will the second leg of Barcelona’s Champions League last-16 tie with Napoli at the Nou Camp on March 18.

The Spanish champions made the announcement on their Twitter page yesterday.

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