With Italy bearing the brunt of the Coronavirus in the Western Hemisphere, government officials have been tasked with containing the virus while weighing the concerns of the nation's economy and the freedom and liberty of its citizens. With the government closing schools and universities last week, the nation's professional football leagues were granted a bit of a reprieve. Rather than suspending Serie A for a month, league and government officials agreed to continue play behind closed doors in an effort to limit large public gatherings.
While that was a noble attempt at maintaining a shred of normality amid the outbreak, the virus has shown no signs of relenting in Italy; with nearly 8,000 documented cases and almost 500 deaths, Italy has been the hardest hit country outside of China.
And moments ago, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte made official what we've been expecting for ten days or so now—the full cessation of sporting activities,and indeed an effective quarantine for the entire nation, as the “red zone” that previously covered the north has now been extended to the entire country, limiting movement to work-related activities and emergencies only, with “public gatherings” being prohibited.
Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has announced that the whole of the country is being put on lockdown in an attempt to contain the #coronavirus outbreak.— Sky News (@SkyNews) March 9, 2020
For the latest on #COVID19, click here: https://t.co/BnjqqFZLOz pic.twitter.com/hFF2zYmuMB
With the entire country in quarantine, it goes without saying that this has long since surpassed a simple sporting inconvenience. According to Conte, the time for sacrifice is upon us:
There is no more time, the numbers tell us there is a significant increase in the contagion, in intensive care and the deaths. Our habits have to change, we must sacrifice something for the good of all of Italy. This is why we will adopt even more stringent measures.
I will sign the new decree, which can be summed up with the phrase ‘I am staying at home.’ There are no more red zones, there is just an Italy that is protected.
We must avoid travel unless for proven work reasons, health reasons or other necessities. We ban large public gatherings.
We also have more stringent measures in mind for sporting events. Serie A and all sporting tournaments in general are suspended. All the fans must accept that.
There is no official word or thought on how this will impact Italian teams playing abroad in the Champions League and Europa League, but this certainly throws the remainder of the Serie A season into jeopardy, creating massive logistical problems for promotion, relegation, the Scudetto, the Coppa Italia and next season's European places.
Earlier today, La Republicca speculated on three routes Serie A could take in the wake of this news, including a) ending the season later in the summer and resuming Euro 2020 closer to August (or even next summer), b) cram the missed and remaining league fixtures into a compact schedule with matches every two to three days or the nuclear option, c) allow FIGC to decide the fate of the season, including a temporary increase to 22 teams in Serie A next term to accommodate the top Serie B sides.
We're definitely in uncharted waters here, but Prime Minister Conte made the tough and correct call. Until the Coronavirus shows signs of abating, it's best to err on the side of caution. Football will always be there waiting.