HONG KONG (Reuters) - Just as rumours were beginning to circulate that football in China might be ready to return from its coronavirus-enforced suspension, news of the first positive test at a Chinese team has brought renewed caution.
Authorities announced on Wednesday that an unnamed member of the playing staff at Meizhou Hakka, a second division club based in Guangdong province, had become the first footballer in the country to contract the virus.
The outbreak that originated in Wuhan has caused havoc in global football, with the Chinese Super League among the first professional leagues to postpone all activities when its start was indefinitely suspended in early February.
Since then competitions around Asia have followed suit.
Leagues in South Korea and Japan are on hold while the Asian Champions League, the continent’s elite club competition, and the second-tier AFC Cup have also been heavily impacted.
Leagues elsewhere around the region, from the Philippines to Iran, have either been suspended or are being played with reduced schedules behind closed doors.
However, with normal life slowly and cautiously returning in many parts of China there was hope that the new CSL campaign could make its long-awaited start.
Figures on Thursday showed that for the first day since the virus took hold late last year in Wuhan, China has recorded no locally transmitted cases.
Mid-April was being touted in some quarters while others were expecting a resumption by early May, with the caveat that nothing could happen without Chinese government approval.
Those hopes still remain, with the Meizhou positive test, which was reported by Chinese media to have been returned by the club’s Brazilian player Dori following a training camp in Thailand, not viewed as insurmountable.
The majority of CSL clubs have returned home from extended pre-season training camps in Europe or the Middle East, with players going into a 14-day quarantine period as a result of the time spent overseas.
That includes Wuhan Zall, the CSL side based in the city where the outbreak began.
Wuhan, who finished sixth last year, have been based in the southern city of Shenzhen having departed Spain at the weekend just days before that country was locked down to tackle the spread of the disease.
Elsewhere, though, the uncertainty remains.
The Asian Football Confederation announced on Wednesday the suspension of all matches in the AFC Cup until further notice, just a week after some of the matches in the competition were played behind closed doors.
“We are a bit sad because if there are no people in the stadium it’s not real football,” said Bienvenido Maranon after Ceres-Negros FC of the Philippines defeated Bali United in a fixture in Manila.
“But we have to get used to this because the first thing for everybody is to be healthy. So we have to take care of this, we can’t just not do it.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford