MADRID: La Liga clubs will begin testing players for the novel coronavirus next week as the first step towards restarting the season in June, a source familiar with the league's plans said on Wednesday.
Athletes in Spain have been forced to train at home since early March due to one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe, but Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has announced they are free to begin individual training at facilities from next Monday.
Players and staff must undergo a RT-PCR test for the virus and a serology test before returning to training as part of phase one of La Liga's protocol for a return to activity.
Phase two is individual training and could begin as soon as May 6, while phase three is training in small groups of up to eight players. Phase four refers to full group training which needs to last at least two weeks before action returns.
The source said the four phases can be completed within a month, meaning top-flight matches in Spain could resume by the middle of June.
There are 11 weeks remaining of the campaign in La Liga and Spain's second division. The Copa del Rey final and second division playoff matches would also need to be scheduled.
Although the top divisions in France and the Netherlands have been declared finished due to the pandemic, all major sports institutions in Spain including the government's department for sport have committed to completing the season.
La Liga president Javier Tebas has said not finishing the season would lead to collective losses of up to one billion euros, while the sports ministry has urged the need for sport to return in order to boost the economy and give people a sense that normality was returning.
"Sport is going to return," the sports minister Irene Lozano said on Twitter on Wednesday.
"It will return in phases and will be determined by the evolution of the pandemic and with measures on distance and hygiene, but it will return. Thanks to all the athletes for your commitment, strength and resistance during the hiatus. You are an example."
Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos said he was desperate to return to action.
"I'm dying of excitement to return to the Santiago Bernabeu wearing the Real Madrid shirt and for things returning to as they were before," he told the club's television channel.
"That will take time, but we'll leave it in the hands of the specialists and when there's no risk we'll be delighted to return."
Spain has the second highest rate of coronavirus infection in the world after the United States, registering over 24,000 deaths from it.
(Reporting by Richard Martin, editing by Ed Osmond)