Soccer-Premier League matches to go ahead as normal despite coronavirus spread

LONDON, March 12 (Reuters) - English soccer has defied the global trend of postponing sports events by announcing that a full round of fixtures with spectators present will go ahead as planned this weekend despite the continued spread of the coronavirus.

The organising bodies of the Premier League and the English Football League (EFL), responsible for the three divisions below the top flight, issued statements on Thursday saying the games would go ahead as normal.

"Following the latest update from government issued this afternoon, all Premier League matches will go ahead as scheduled this weekend," said a statement on the league's website.

Prime minister Boris Johnson has warned that the virus would lead to more deaths and moved Britain's response to the outbreak to the so-called "delay phase" but, unlike across the continent, his government has not yet banned mass gatherings.

"While the Prime Minister advised that all sporting events should take place as normal for now, he also indicated that Government is considering banning major public events, like sporting fixtures," added the Premier League statement.

"We are therefore continuing to work closely with our clubs, government, The FA, EFL and other relevant stakeholders to ensure appropriate contingency plans are in place as and when circumstances change.

"The welfare of players, staff and supporters is of paramount importance and we will continue to follow Public Health England guidelines thoroughly."

Spain's top two divisions announced earlier on Thursday that all fixtures would be postponed for at least two weeks in a bid to stop the rapid spread of the virus, while all sporting events in Italy have been postponed until the start of April.

(Reporting by Richard Martin, editing by Ed Osmond)