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'No restrictions' for French football, rugby despite virus fears

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Paris (AFP)

Top-flight French football and rugby matches "are not subject to specific restrictions" and will continue to go ahead as planned despite concerns over the coronavirus, sports minister Roxana Maracineanu said Tuesday.

Officials have reported 191 COVID-19 cases in France so far, and three deaths, while authorities are prohibiting any gatherings of more than 5,000 people in enclosed spaces.

The largest numbers of coronavirus infections in France have emerged in the Oise department north of Paris.

"Today (the matches) are not subject to any specific restrictions," said Maracineanu. "The large majority of spectators come from regions where there are no travel restrictions in place."

However, she did concede current arrangements could change as authorities battle to contain the spread of the virus.

"This matter is going to be studied on a case by case basis with the prefects," she said.

Last week, French football officials scrapped the traditional pre-match handshakes between players on the advice of the health department. Similar protocol will be in place for this weekend's Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 games.

Maracineanu also insisted Paris Saint-Germain's second leg at home to Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League will go ahead on March 11 -- even if it is held behind closed doors.

The next round of matches in French rugby's Top 14 are not until March 21-22, with the Six Nations set to resume this weekend.

Organisers said on Monday the remaining fixtures in the Six Nations Championship were expected to be played on schedule, although they did not rule out possible changes.

The March 7 match between Ireland and Italy in Dublin has already been postponed but other matches will be maintained unless governments monitoring the spread of the virus decide otherwise.

"We've just had the information that the Scots are maintaining the match" against France in Edinburgh on Sunday, but "we have doubts over French fans making the trip," said Maracineanu.

The Paris-Nice multi-stage cycling race, which runs from March 8-15, also appears set to go ahead.

"It's effectively an international event, but the majority of teams have been tested and there are few fans along the course," said Maracineanu, who refused to rule out imposing "stricter measures".

The UAE Tour, an early season warm-up that featured four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome, was cut short last week after a coronavirus scare.

All 133 cyclists who were still in contention as well as team members were tested after the two cases were announced by organisers Thursday, forcing the event to be cancelled with two stages left to go.

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