BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Any lingering hopes that Belgian football might go back on a decision to cancel their season, and restart the campaign, ended on Wednesday as the government extended a ban on sports events until July 31.
Belgium's Pro League was the first in Europe to end its 2019-20 season, as the deadly effects of the COVID-19 health crisis began to hit, but the decision made by the league's board in early April was still to be ratified by the 24-member clubs.
The fact that the meeting to do so had been postponed three times, most recently at the weekend, opened up the possibility of a change of heart and speculation about a possible re-start.
Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes announced at a news conference on Wednesday that shops will reopen and people will be allowed to visit each other from Sunday - however, she said sports competitions could not restart before August.
"We have taken note of the decision and it speaks for itself that the league and its club respect the decision," a statement from the Pro League said in response.
It is now left for the Pro League to declare runaway leaders Club Brugge as champions and decide on promotion and relegation and places in next season's European club competitions, akin to similar decisions made in the Netherlands and France.
"The working group set up by the Pro League to study the sporting and financial consequences of the coronavirus crisis will be presented to the clubs at the (rescheduled) general meeting on May 15," the statement added.
Belgium has 50,781 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 8,339 deaths. However, the rate of new cases, hospital admissions and deaths has fallen steadily from early April peaks.
(Writing by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Additional reporting by Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels; Editing by Christian Radnedge)