Australia plots return of sport as spread of coronavirus slows

By Colin Packham

SYDNEY, May 1 (Reuters) - The Australian government will meet on Friday to discuss how sport can restart as the number of new coronavirus cases dwindles and states begin to relax restrictions on social gatherings, two sources familiar with the details told Reuters.

Australia has reported about 6,700 cases of the new coronavirus and 93 deaths, significantly below the levels reported in the United States, Britain and Europe. Growth in new infections has slowed to less 0.5% a day, compared to 25% a month ago.

"The agenda includes the principles for sport and other recreational activities," one source familiar with the cabinet agenda told Reuters.

Coronavirus has shredded the global sporting calendar including, putting top European soccer leagues and the National Basketball Association on hold, and forced the delay of the Olympics.

The sporting suspensions have left some codes under mounting financial pressures as revenues run dry and television networks push to renegotiate rights deals.

Australia’s National Rugby League (NRL), which was interrupted after two rounds due to the COVID-19 pandemic, said earlier this week it will resume a 20-round competition on May 28, though it still requires government permission to restart.

The return of the NRL would be extremely popular in the sport-mad country, though lawmakers have cautioned easing restrictions may create a second wave of infection.

Still, several states on Friday began easing some social distancing restrictions.

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In New South Wales, Australia's most populous state, households are now permitted to receive two adult guests, while the remote Northern Territory will lift social gathering limitations for non-contact sport, weddings and funerals on Friday.

The national government attributes its success in fighting coronavirus to the closure of external and internal borders, strict social distancing restrictions and widespread testing.

While dangling more social freedoms, state lawmakers have pleaded with people to get tested if they have any coronavirus-like symptoms.

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"If you have any symptoms whatsoever, even the mildest of symptom, please come forward and get tested," Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters in Melbourne.

"We have achieved too much for us to give that back."

(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Stephen Coates)

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