BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's fiercest soccer rivalry between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04 will be played out in front of empty stands on Saturday after the Bundesliga became the latest league to ban spectators following the coronavirus outbreak.
The City of Dortmund said the decision to keep the Signa Iduna stadium off limits for fans was taken to protect people from a wider spread of the virus.
"It is not a joke or about spoiling the game. This is about life or death," Dortmund mayor Ullrich Sierau told a news conference.
The Ruhr valley derby usually attracts about 80,000 spectators in either Dortmund or Schalke's large stadiums.
The friendly international between Germany and Italy on March 31 will also be played without fans following a decision by the city of Nuremberg to comply with a decree by the state of Bavaria to limit crowds at events.
That also means Bayern Munich will play all their home games until at least April 19 behind closed doors.
Borussia Moenchengladbach and Cologne will on Wednesday be the first teams to play a Bundesliga game in an empty stadium.
"We regret that it came to this but of course we are following the guidelines of the federal state. It was not an easy decision," mayor Hans Wilhelm Reiners said in a statement on Tuesday.
More matches are expected to be played in empty stadiums over the weekend with local authorities in each German state responsible for the final decision.
Germany's Health Minister Jens Spahn has advised that meetings of more than 1,000 people should be cancelled.
The German Football League said on Monday it was in charge of making sure the games were held on the scheduled dates and it was up to local authorities to decide on the fans' entry or not.
Germany recorded its first two deaths from the virus on Monday as its overall number of new infections rose by 20% to 1,139, the latest signs that the epidemic is spreading rapidly in Europe's largest economy.
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann, editing by Ed Osmond)