ROME (AP) Three Serie A soccer matches scheduled for Sunday in the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto were suspended late Saturday after the deaths of two people infected with the virus from China.
On orders from the Italian government, the games called off were: Inter Milan vs. Sampdoria, Atalanta vs. Sassuolo and Hellas Verona vs. Cagliari.
Three other matches in Genoa, Turin and Rome on Sunday are going ahead as scheduled.
A dozen towns in northern Italy effectively went into lockdown on Saturday after the deaths of two people infected with the coronavirus from China, and a growing cluster of cases with no direct links to the origin of the outbreak abroad.
''The government is working on urgent measures to decisively confront and contain the cases of coronavirus contagion,'' read a letter from Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora to Italian Olympic Committee president Giovanni Malago shortly before midnight local time on Saturday. ''Those measures also include the sports world in order to prevent risks and to better take care of the health of those involved in the events and competition.
''Following measures taken by the cabinet for protective reasons and maximum precaution, on orders of the government I'm asking you to suspend all sports events of every level and discipline planned for the Lombardy and Veneto regions on Sunday.''
Already on Saturday, the Ascoli-Cremonese game in Serie B was postponed, as well as Piacenza-Sambenedettese in Serie C. Four Serie C games scheduled for Sunday have also been postponed.
On Thursday, Inter is also slated to host Ludogrets in the second leg of the Europa League Round of 32.
''It's obvious that gatherings at sports events are among the events where the most difficulties could occur,'' Spadafora said earlier Saturday in Rome at the Six Nations rugby game between Italy and Scotland, which was attended by 55,000 fans.
Added Malago, ''The Authorities have the responsibility, the right and the duty to take initiatives and precautions. If a mayor, the president of a region or a minister issues an ordinance, the sports world has to obey. There are no doubts.''
Sports events across China and Asia have also been suspended, amid fears that the Tokyo Olympics due to open in five months could also be affected.
The secondary contagions prompted local authorities in the Lombardy and Veneto regions to close schools, businesses and restaurants and to cancel sporting events and Masses.
The mayor of Milan, Italy's business capital and the regional capital of Lombardy, shuttered public offices.
A 78-year-old man infected with the virus died in Veneto. A postmortem on a 77-year-old woman in Lombardy came back positive, though it wasn't clear if illness from the virus caused her death.
Hundreds of residents and workers who came into contact with 54 people who tested positive for the virus in Italy were put into isolation pending results of their tests. Civil protection crews set up a tent camp outside a closed hospital in Veneto to screen medical staff for the virus.
In the town of Codogno, where the first patient identified in the northern cluster was in critical condition, closed supermarkets, restaurants and shops made main street practically a ghost town. The few people out wore face masks, which were coveted items after selling out at pharmacies.
Lombardy government authorities said the region had 39 confirmed cases, all somehow traceable to the first one involving a man who hadn't traveled to China. Ten towns in Lombardy received orders to suspend nonessential activities and services.
The Veneto region reported 12 people with the virus, including the 78-year-old man who died late Friday. Two of the region's confirmed infections were relatives of the man who died, Veneto regional president Luca Zaia said.