By Fabian Cambero
SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Chilean soccer stars Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal will be quarantined when they return to their home country from Europe to play in a World Cup qualifier this month, Chile’s health minister said on Tuesday.
The players – who are signed to European clubs – are due to fly first to Uruguay for a World Cup qualifier on March 26 and then to Chile to face Colombia.
Italy announced a quarantine and advised against all but non-essential travel until April 3 after its death toll from coronavirus jumped by 168 to 631 this week.
“We do not make any distinction by people’s profession because nobody is immune to this virus and indeed the quarantine determined today for Italy applies to everyone,” said Health Minister Jaime Mañalich, according to local news website Emol.
“Of course, if these players want to work out on a machine in their homes, or all be quarantined together at Juan Pinto Duran (the national football stadium), then that’s their call.”
A source at the Football Federation of Chile told Emol it had been told nothing about quarantine plans for the players.
“So far there are no changes to our plans,” a source said. “What the minister says comes as a surprise.”
Spain has suspended flights from Italy and also advised against all non-essential travel. It has so far reported 36 deaths and 1,639 confirmed cases. Italy has at least 10,149.
Alexis Sánchez plays for Inter Milan and Vidal plays for FC Barcelona. Another Chilean player likely to be impacted is Gary Medel, who plays for the Italian club Bologna.
Sanchez’s team has been playing Serie A matches in empty stadiums after the Italian government banned large gatherings last week. At around the same time, there was a flurry of claims on social media that Sanchez himself may have contracted the coronavirus – reports later explained by a poor translation of a story about Sanchez’s team being impacted by the games ban.
Chile is tracking people returning from countries affected by coronavirus in a bid to contain its spread. So far, 17 cases have been confirmed in the South American country.
(Reporting by Fabian Cambero, writing by Aislinn Laing; Editing by Tom Brown, David Gregorio and Dan Grebler)