Thursday Mar 12 2020

Coronavirus outbreak forces India to hold cricket matches in empty stadiums

First ODI between India, South Africa today to be played in front of an empty Dharamsala stadium due to coronavirus scare. Photo: AFP

India on Thursday ordered upcoming international cricket matches to be played in empty stadiums in a bid to combat the spread of coronavirus.

With just 68 confirmed cases and no deaths, India has so far been relatively unscathed by the virus compared to elsewhere in Asia, Europe and North America. But experts fear that its overstretched medical systems may not be able to handle the type of intensive care required to handle a spike in infections.

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On Thursday, the country's sports secretary said it wanted the national cricket team's upcoming matches to be played in empty stadiums — an unheard-of occurrence for one of India's national obsessions.

The chief ministers of two states where India is due to play matches against South Africa this month "have been advised to avoid gathering of people," RS Jhulaniya told Reuters. "Matches may go on without spectator crowd".

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Brijesh Patel, governing council chairman of the Indian Premier League, the country's premier domestic cricket tournament due to start later this month, said the organisation would meet on Saturday to discuss "all possibilities" regarding the tournament, including visas issues for overseas players and the possibility of playing matches in empty stadiums.

New Delhi said late on Wednesday it will cancel almost all visas issued for travel to the country until April 15, in one of the most far-reaching attempts to prevent the spread of the virus.