South Am football off as Brazil records first virus death

Montevideo (AFP) –


South American football's governing body CONMEBOL postponed its flagship competition, the Copa America, on Tuesday as Brazil recorded its first death from the escalating coronavirus pandemic.

Chile was meanwhile studying the possibility of pushing back its April 26 referendum on changing the dictatorship-era constitution, and upcoming elections in Bolivia on May 3 could be called into question.

CONMEBOL announced the 2020 Copa America would be delayed until 2021, shortly after UEFA said the European championships would be pushed back by 12 months.

"It's an extraordinary measure due to an unexpected situation, and therefore responds to the fundamental need to avoid an exponential evolution of the virus," said CONMEBOL of a competition that had been due to begin on June 12 and last a month.

The tournament -- set to be played in Argentina and Colombia -- is now rescheduled to run from June 11-July 11, 2021.

The championships were the latest major sporting events to be suspended or postponed over the virus, which has killed more than 7,400 people and infected 180,000 worldwide.

Shortly after the postponement of the Copa America, Argentina's league also suspended play, meaning all major football competition in South America has been shut down.

Costa Rica also suspended its football championship on Tuesday.

- 'Hysteria' -

In Brazil, the first COVID-19 death was confirmed, as Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro declared a state of emergency over the virus.

Yet President Jair Bolsonaro continued to buck the global trend of increasing caution and implementing measures to stop its spread, instead condemning the "hysteria" over the pandemic.

Brazil -- the biggest country in Latin America, with 210 million people -- has confirmed 234 coronavirus cases, concentrated in Sao Paulo and Rio.

With the death of a 62-year-old man who had underlying health problems on Monday in Sao Paulo, Latin America has now recorded nine deaths and more than 1,000 cases.

"People are acting like it's the end of the world," the far-right Bolsonaro told Radio Tupi.

That came after Sao Paulo mayor Bruno Covas told CBN radio that the latest death "shows how severe this pandemic is, despite what some would like to believe."

As part of new measures taken to reduce spread of the virus, Rio closed two of its most iconic sites: the Christ the Redeemer statue and the Sugarloaf Mountain cable car.

Brazilian authorities also said they had recaptured 444 inmates who escaped from minimum security prisons in a row over temporary furlough leave, which had been suspended due to the health crisis.

- 'Health comes first' -

In Chile, different political factions and medical authorities said they were studying the possibility of suspending April's referendum.

The government of right-wing President Sebastian Pinera agreed to hold the vote on changing the three-decade-old constitution following months of street protests against inequality.

"We're ready to review the constitutional reform referendum on April 26, including its eventual postponement to a fixed, concrete date," said Heraldo Munoz, the president of the opposition Party for Democracy.

"The people's health comes first."

The country's medical association has advised citizens to "stay at home," and said that the referendum should go ahead only in a healthy environment.

In Honduras, all shops were closed in the capital Tegucigalpa and two other cities, and residents have been barred from going into the streets for any reason.