English Premier League Soccer Suspended Amid Coronavirus Fears

Chris Brunskill_Fantasista_Getty Images
Liverpool player Mohamed Salah

The decision follows similar moves across Europe and the U.S.

The English Premier League, the world's most widely-watched and richest soccer division, has suspended all games until April 3 due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The news comes a day after it was revealed that Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and Chelsea player Callum Hudson-Odoi tested positive for COVID-19, the illness that is caused by the virus and affects lungs and airways, and several teams announced that their games this Saturday were being postponed. The decision was made on Friday following an emergency meeting by the league and all 20 clubs.

Earlier on Friday, Everton confirmed that, as a precautionary measure, its entire first-team squad and coaching staff is undertaking a period of self-isolation following medical advice after a first-team player reported symptoms consistent with coronavirus.

The league, which Liverpool is currently topping, kicked off on Aug. 9 and was due to wrap on May 17.

Unlike many countries across Europe, the British government still hasn't officially banned sporting events or mass gatherings. Speaking on Thursday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the U.K. was moving to the "delay" stage of of its plan to tackle the virus, which has so far claimed 10 lives in the country, with almost 600 cases. 

Soccer leagues in Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Ireland, Germany and the U.S. have all been suspended amid the outbreak. Scotland on Friday followed suit, suspending all professional and grassroots soccer in the country until further notice. In the U.S., professional basketball and hockey leagues, the NBA and NHL, have both been suspended over coronavirus fears, and the opening day for Major League Baseball (MLB) has been pushed back by two weeks. 

European soccer association UEFA on Friday also postponed Champions League matches. "In the light of developments due to the spread of COVID-19 in Europe and related decisions made by different governments, all UEFA club competitions matches scheduled next week are postponed," it said. "Further decisions on when these matches take place will be communicated in due course."

With fans all over the world, the English Premier League has become one the most expensive sporting battle grounds over TV rights, with billions of dollars spent each year. In the U.K., the 2019/2022 cycle cost £5 billion ($6.3 billion), with Comcast-owned Sky claiming the most matches, followed by BT Sport and Amazon, which became the first streaming service to win rights. Overseas, networks paid a combined total of £4.2 billion ($5.3 billion) for the same cycle, up £1 billion ($1.2 billion) from the previous arrangement.