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ROME: Football fans will not be able to watch Serie A matches in Italy’s stadiums until at least January 2021, according to leaked government plans to control the coronavirus outbreak.

Right after the president of the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) expressed optimism that action could resume next month behind closed doors, Sport Mediaset said it had government documents saying stadiums would remain empty for at least the rest of the year, causing dismay and disappointment among Serie A supporters.

Infectious diseases experts suggested to the Ministry of Health that it would be January at the earliest when Italian football stadiums could open their doors to the public again.

Serie A has been on hold since early March, after the country became the first in Europe to be rocked by the virus. Juventus are at the top of the table, leading Lazio by one point and Inter Milan by nine.

Scientists and politicians have blamed the UEFA Champions League clash between Atalanta and Valencia in Milan on Feb. 19 as the main carrier of the virus to Bergamo, the northern city with a devastating death toll of thousands.

“That stadium was a real biological bomb: 40,000 supporters went from Bergamo to Milan to watch that match and they brought back home the virus which has been killing our people,” Bergamo Mayor Giorgio Gori told local media after the infection had spread.

Several Serie A stars have already been diagnosed with the virus such as Paulo Dybala, Blaise Matuidi and Daniele Rugani.  

There remain fears that the Serie A campaign could be scrapped. But players could start to train next month with the hope of resuming matches shortly afterwards, and some reports say that teams could relocate to Rome for some kind of gladiatorial battle.

“As soon as the conditions are right, we’ll finish the championship,” FIGC’s president Gabriele Gravina told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “Soon there will be a meeting. We will establish the procedure which we will then communicate. We will start, I hope, at the beginning of May with tests to ensure that players are negative and training can follow. Will we play through the summer? We don’t have a deadline but the idea is to finish the championship.”

Group training for professional athletes has been banned by the government as it is believed the virus can spread this way. Some Serie A stars have been reported jogging alone in the streets to keep up with their training.

Lockdown restrictions could be eased at the beginning of May, with people currently not allowed to leave their homes unless they need essentials or have to go to work.

But Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte does not want to create more problems by allowing football fans to gather in close proximity.

“If I had to give a technical view to the possibility of restarting Serie A, sincerely it would not be a favorable one,” Giovanni Rezza, the head of infectious diseases at Italy’s National Institute of Health, told Arab News. “That being said, it will be of course for the politicians to decide.”

He also opposed the possibility of restarting professional training for players. “I’ve heard certain people propose more strict observations with players tested every few days. But it seems to me a slightly far-fetched theory. And we’re almost in May already. It’s obvious that politics will decide. But soccer is a sport that involves contact and that contact could imply a certain risk of transmission.”

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