Sao Paulo suspends football as COVID-19 deaths rise

·2 min read

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - The Sao Paulo state championship will be suspended after the governor of Brazil's most populous state halted football for at least two weeks on Thursday with the COVID-19 death toll rising to unprecedented levels across the country.

The ban on all sport is part of a wide range of restrictions aimed at halting the spread of the coronavirus.

It begins on March 15 and runs until March 30, meaning this weekend's games will take place as planned.

“Unfortunately, we have arrived at a critical moment, the most critical moment of the pandemic,” Governor Joao Doria said in a sombre video released before the announcement.

“Brazil is collapsing and if we don’t put a brake on the virus Sao Paulo won’t be any different.”

The nationwide COVID-19 death toll announced on Wednesday was 2,286. It was the third record high this month and the first time the daily death toll had exceeded 2000.

More than 270,000 people have died after contracting the virus in Brazil, more than any other country except the United States.

Sport was halted last March when the virus first hit Brazil but it was back up again in some states just three months later. Football operated normally for most of the second half of 2020, with stringent controls and no fans present.

This year’s Sao Paulo state championship kicked off on Feb. 27 and so far the 20 teams in the first division have played 22 matches.

Another 32 teams play in the state’s second and third tiers and will also be affected by the stoppage.

Similar decisions to stop play were taken earlier this month in minor state leagues but Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais and Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil’s other footballing powerhouses, are still playing.

Governor Doria’s decision comes a day after the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) said clubs and local federations voted unanimously to keep playing.

The CBF said if state authorities opted to suspend competitions it would consider moving matches to states where no ban is in place.

(Reporting by Andrew Downie; Editing by Toby Davis)