ROME (REUTERS) - Italy is set to order all major sporting events, including top-flight Serie A soccer games, to be played without fans for one month in a bid to curb Europe's worst coronavirus outbreak, the sports minister said.
The move will also affect the Six Nations rugby international between Italy and England, due to be played in Rome on March 14, and the Champions League soccer match between Juventus and Olympique Lyonnais on March 17.
Italy closed all schools and universities and prepared other emergency measures on Wednesday. According to a draft version of a decree seen by Reuters, that includes playing all major sporting matches and events behind closed doors until April 3.
Earlier, sports minister Vincenzo Spadafora said "we are heading towards that decision" when asked by reporters if the government was thinking of barring fans.
Inter Milan chief executive Giuseppe Marotta said it could be the only way of finishing the Serie A season.
The government last month banned sporting events in the worst-affected northern regions, although it gave clubs in that area the option of playing behind closed doors.
Serie A, however, has preferred to call off games rather than play them in empty stadiums and 10 matches have been postponed as well as this week's two Coppa Italia semi-final ties.
Meanwhile, Italy's epidemic has spread, with 107 dead and more than 3,000 cases of coronavirus.
Spadafora's announcement came as representatives from Serie A clubs were meeting to discuss the situation and Marotta said they were prepared to play without fans - an about-turn from their previous position.
"Playing behind closed doors could be the only way to complete the championship in the light of the emergency and the restrictions that the government is rightly adopting," he said as he left the meeting.
"The aim is to finish the championship as normally as possible, without creating a competitive imbalance, but as you can see the scenario is constantly changing."
Marotta suggested that the six matches which had been postponed last week - including the heavyweight Juventus v Inter clash - could be rescheduled for the coming weekend.
Six Nations organisers have postponed the match between Ireland and Italy in Dublin on March 7 but said on Monday that all other games would go ahead, including Italy's game against England.
The organisers and the Italian rugby federation could not immediately be reached for comment.
Uefa has said it is in constant contact with local authorities and decisions over whether games should be played behind closed doors, or postponed, would be taken at the last minute.