South Korea’s K-league on Monday postponed the start of the new football season in the face of the growing novel coronavirus outbreak in the country.

“The K-league has decided to temporarily postpone the start of the 2020 K-league season until the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak eases,” it said in a statement.

This year’s edition of the 12-team competition – whose current champions are Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors – had been due to kick off this weekend.

“This is a measure to protect the health and safety of the citizens and our players with the highest priority against the outbreak of the COVID-19 which has entered a serious phase,” the K-league said after an emergency board meeting.

Authorities have so far confirmed 763 cases of novel coronavirus in South Korea, most of them linked to Shincheonji, a controversial religious sect, and seven deaths – five of them patients at the same hospital.

Matches featuring Daegu FC, based in the city that is the epicentre of the South Korean outbreak, and nearby Pohang Steelers, had already been delayed.