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Major League Baseball delays season start, halts tuneup games

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New York (AFP)

Major League Baseball will delay the start of the 2020 season by at least two weeks because of the "national emergency" created by the coronavirus pandemic, commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday.

The season had been scheduled to begin on March 26. MLB also suspended Spring Training games.

Manfred said the decision was taken after consultation among all 30 clubs and the MLB Players Association.

"This action is being taken in the interests of the safety and well-being of our players, clubs and our millions of loyal fans," Manfred said.

"MLB will continue to evaluate ongoing events leading up to the start of the season. Guidance related to daily operations and workouts will be relayed to Clubs in the coming days.

"As of 4:00 p.m. ET (Thursday), forthcoming Spring Training games have been cancelled, and 2020 World Baseball Classic Qualifier games in Tucson, Arizona, have been postponed indefinitely."

MLB became the fourth major US sports league to suspend competition, following the NBA, MLS and NHL.

The NBA made the move first after learning Wednesday night that a Utah Jazz player had tested positive for COVID-19.

Another player on the team has also tested positive.

"MLB and the clubs have been preparing a variety of contingency plans regarding the 2020 regular season schedule," Manfred said. "MLB will announce the effects on the schedule at an appropriate time and will remain flexible as events warrant, with the hope of resuming normal operations as soon as possible.

"Nothing is more important to us than the health and safety of our players, employees and fans," he added. "MLB will continue to undertake the precautions and best practices recommended by public health experts."

The novel coronavirus that emerged in China in December has so far infected more than 130,000 people globally and killed over 4,900, according to an AFP tally.

The pandemic has infected more than 1,300 people in the United States.

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