PCB pushes ahead with Pakistan Super League matches despite coronavirus pandemic

The city of at least 15 million people is set to host five Pakistan Super League games starting Thursday evening at the national stadium in Karachi

Karachi Kings batsman Babar Azam is set to play in the Pakistan Super League match at the national stadium in Karachi against Lahore Qalandars. AFP
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The Pakistan Cricket Board said it was taking precautions to ensure the health and safety of players and fans attending T20 matches in Karachi, brushing off calls to postpone games over the coronavirus pandemic.

The city of at least 15 million people is set to host five Pakistan Super League games starting Thursday evening at the national stadium in the bustling commercial hub of Karachi, which can hold up to 30,000 spectators.

Second-bottom Karachi Kings, who feature national team players such as batsman Babar Azam and all-rounder Imad Wasim, take on third-placed Lahore Qalandars on Thursday, before Peshawar Zalmi face Multan Sultans on Friday with Karachi back in action on the Saturday against Islamabad United.

Quetta Gladiators visit Karachi on Sunday before the national stadium hosts the Qualifier between the teams that finish first and second in the table on Tuesday.

The decision to move ahead with the league comes as anxiety escalated globally about the potential of unchecked transmission of the virus at mass gatherings at major sports events.

The NBA in North America announced on Wednesday it was suspending its season after Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive for the Covid-19 virus.

On Thursday, the Spanish football federation said it was suspending all La Liga and second tier matches for at least two weeks after a Real Madrid basketball player tested positive, resulting in the club's football team being placed in quarantine.

In Formula One, British team McLaren pulled out of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix after a team member tested positive for coronavirus, throwing the race into chaos.

Social media users in Pakistan voiced concerns over authorities continuing to host games despite a rise in coronavirus cases.

"Still trying to understand why PSL hasn't been canceled during a GLOBAL PANDEMIC," tweeted Pakistan novelist Fatima Bhutto.

"World's best sports events are cancelled but in Pakistan flight operations are still going on, PSL is still not banned... Where we're headed?" added Twitter user Asim Siddiq.

However, officials insisted the situation was under control.

In a statement released by the Pakistan Cricket Board, officials encouraged fans attending games to wash their hands and refrain from hugging, shaking hands and spitting.

"We have ensured all kinds of safety measures at the PSL matches, so the people can enjoy cricket," said Murtaza Wahab, the provincial government spokesman.

"Spectators would be scanned and they would be able to wash and sanitise their hands before entering into the stadium."

As of Thursday afternoon Pakistan has recorded just 20 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus - including several in Karachi - but no deaths, according to Mumtaz Ali Khan from the National Institute of Health.

However, there are fears that officials have yet to test large swathes of the population in earnest due to a lack of resources and decades of underinvestment in the country's health sector.

This year's PSL tournament is the first in the league's five-year history to in its entirety on home soil.

Previous seasons saw a portion of matches held in the UAE over security fears.