As the threat of Coronavirus deepens across the globe, governments and health officials are recommending the next steps, not only for citizens who may be travelling to football matches around the world but to the players and staff of the clubs themselves.
What is coronavirus?
Corona viruses are a family of viruses that cause disease in animals. Seven, including the new virus, have made the jump to humans, but most just cause cold-like symptoms.
Two other coronaviruses – Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) – are much more severe, having killed more than 1,500 people between them since 2002.
The new virus, officially called Covid-19, is also dangerous. So far, around 20 per cent of confirmed cases have been classed as severe or critical. So far, around 15 to 20 per cent of hospital cases have been classed as “severe” and the current death rate varies between 0.7 per cent and 3.4 per cent depending on the location and, crucially, access to good hospital care.
This is much lower than fatality rates for Mers (30 per cent) and Sars (10 per cent), but still a significant threat.
How did the outbreak start?
The source of the coronavirus is believed to be a “wet market” in Wuhan which sold both dead and live animals including fish and birds.
Such markets pose a heightened risk of viruses jumping from animals to humans because hygiene standards are difficult to maintain if live animals are being kept and butchered on site. Typically, they are also densely packed.
The animal source of the latest outbreak has not yet been identified, but the original host is thought to be bats. Bats were not sold at the Wuhan market but may have infected live chickens or other animals sold there. Bats are host to a wide range of zoonotic viruses including Ebola, HIV and rabies.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus (Covid-19)?
It is understood that the novel coronavirus causes pneumonia, with symptoms such as fever, coughs and difficulty breathing apparent.
Has any football already been affected by coronavirus?
With a number of cases of coronavirus across Europe governments are keen to prevent the spread of the disease as much as possible. As a result, self-isolation and the postponement of major sporting events has been advised.
In Italy – where the highest number of cases have been reported in Europe – a number of Serie A matches have been postponed due to a spike of cases in northern Italy, including a title clash between Inter Milan and Juventus. It’s been announced that all Serie A matches will be suspended until April 3 – as will Inter’s Europa League clash with Ludogorets.
The Swiss Super League has postponed weekend fixtures after a government ban on large public events, while the start of the Chinese Super League and South Korea’s K-League have also been postponed.
In Morocco, in northern Africa, authorities have taken the decision to play all games behind closed doors in an effort to minimise the risk of the virus spreading.
Are handshakes before football matches banned?
Handshakes in the Premier League and the EFL have been suspended while the threat of the disease is still looming. Teams will still acknowledge each other before the start of the match by walking past each other, but won’t make physical contact.
The line from most clubs has been that it is “business as usual”, despite the warnings about the virus. The Premier League has written to all 20 clubs with the latest guidelines, as they are in constant contact with the government’s health officials.
Wolverhampton Wanderers have gone as far as to ban players taking selfies with fans, as part of a bid to spread interacting with strangers.
Is the Premier League going to be affected by coronavirus?
Premier League games are yet to be affected by the coronavirus crisis, though the Premier League and the FA are looking into a contingency plan, should matches need to be postponed or played behind closed doors.
Talks are currently taking place to try and ensure that the Premier League season can continue – should it need to be cut short, there is a chance that Liverpool will not be awarded the Premier League trophy, assuming that they win the league.
It is extremely unlikely that any immediate decisions will be made by the Premier League regarding coronavirus. Cases in the United Kingdom of the virus have been minimal and there are currently no plans for the government to ban mass gatherings.
Is the Champions League affected by coronavirus?
Coronavirus is yet to affect much of Europe. Though the worst-hit area is northern Italy, much of the Champions League knockout action should resume as planned next week – whether or not that is in front of crowds though, remains to be seen.
The Spanish government have confirmed that Barcelona’s home leg against Napoli will be played behind closed doors, following the news that Valencia’s own home game against Atalanta will be. On Monday March 9, it was confirmed that Paris Saint-Germain’s home match against Borussia Dortmund in the second leg of the Champions League round of 16 on March 11 will be played behind closed doors.
The Champions League match scheduled for Wednesday, March 18, between FC Barcelona and Napoli, will be played at Camp Nou behind closed doors. pic.twitter.com/4uceIGrobY— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) March 10, 2020
Juventus looked into the possibility of playing Lyon at a neutral venue in Malta, rather than in their Turin home, but have not yet been able to find an alternative.
Is the upcoming AFCON qualifiers in jeopardy?
The Confederation of African Football (CAF) say they will remain vigilant of the threat posed by coronavirus ahead of major football events, including the CHAN finals in Cameroon.
The continental football mother body issued a statement, just hours after Cameroon confirmed its first case of the deadly communicable disease. The Warriors are also scheduled to travel to Algeria, which has become the epicentre of the disease in Africa after 17 cases were confirmed this week, for a 2021 AFCON qualifier this month.
“CAF is following with great attention the evolution of the situation of this pandemic affecting our continent.
‘‘Eight major African football countries have reported cases to date: Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, Cameroon and South Africa. CAF has mandated the Medical Committee to monitor the evolution of this disease and to set up measures to protect the health of players and all actors of the game.
Togo became the ninth African country to be affected after they recorded their first case. There have been fears, after the cases surpassed the 100 000-mark globally inside two months, forcing authorities to cancel some sporting events and games.
CAF, however, said their events slated for the coming weeks, which also include the AFCON qualifiers and the interclub finals, will go ahead as planned.But, in extreme cases, they have left the door open for authorities to either postpone or play the games behind closed doors.
Nigeria is meant to host Sierra Leone on Friday 27 March before the away trip to Freetown on Tuesday 31 March. We wait to see if the games will be played behind closed doors
Is Euro 2020 going to be affected by coronavirus?
With Euro 2020 taking place this summer across the continent, as opposed to being hosted in one country, health fears are rife for the tournament. There is talk of UEFA either cancelling the entire competition or moving it to a single country to avoid the spread of coronavirus.
UEFA are reportedly in talks with authorities around the world. There is no current plan to move the tournament and as things stand, the opening game of the European Championships will still kick off in Rome on 12 June 2020, as planned.
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has talked about optimism recently, in regards to the crisis, urging people to “not think about dark scenarios”.
How are other sports dealing with coronavirus?
Across the world, various sports have been affected by the coronavirus, with events being cancelled and postponed, and more being considered.
In rugby, the Six Nations tie between Italy and Italy has been postponed after governmental advice; further from home, China have had to forfeit a Davis Cup tie against Romania, the table tennis world championship in South Korea has been rescheduled for June and the Chinese Grand Prix has been postponed.
Road cycling has also been heavily affected, with the start of the season hampered by a number of race cancellations.
The big rumours, however, concern the 2020 Olympics, set to be hosted in Tokyo this July. It is possible that the games may have to be moved or cancelled altogether, though a decision is likely to be made by May at the very latest.