Women's ice hockey world championship canceled over coronavirus fears

The Ice Hockey Women's World Championship has been canceled due to the threat of the coronavirus.

"It is with great regret that we must take this action," IIHF president René Fasel said in a statement Saturday. "It was not an easy decision to make, as we were greatly looking forward to hosting this tournament in Canada. Nevertheless, the decision has been made due to safety concerns for the well-being of players, officials, and spectators."

The tournament was scheduled to take place from March 31 to April 10 in Halifax and Truro, Nova Scotia. The IIHF has already canceled six other tournaments following an emergency meeting of the IIHF Council last week in Hungary.

"Ultimately the IIHF Council feels that there has not been enough of an improvement to the coronavirus situation to allow us to safely host a 10-team international tournament within this timeframe," Fasel said. "We look forward to coming to Canada in 2021."

Two marquee events remain on the international hockey calendar for now: April's U18 championship in Michigan and May's men's world championship in Switzerland. Fasel said a decision on playing the U18 championship likely will be made within 10 days. The IIHF will wait until mid-April to determine whether to proceed with the men's world championships.

It's been a frustrating year for women's hockey at the top level. September saw the cancellation of the Four Nations Tournament -- a key event on Team USA's and Team Canada's schedule -- because Sweden's top players were boycotting their national team, unhappy over pay and working conditions.

The Americans are the five-time reigning women's world champions, and the U.S. has won the event in eight of the past nine years.

This is the second time the event has been canceled due to a health scare. Organizers canceled the 2003 event, scheduled for Beijing, due to the SARS outbreak.

The coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, is a new strain of coronavirus that has surged around the globe in recent months. The coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more serious respiratory diseases. The flu is caused by a different virus. There is no vaccine for the coronavirus, although researchers are working hope to begin testing one soon. Older people, especially those with chronic illnesses such as heart or lung disease, are most at risk. The coronavirus spreads mainly through coughs and sneezes, although it also can be transferred from surfaces. The best way to prevent infection is by frequent hand-washing, cleaning surfaces with regular household sprays and wipes, and avoiding close contact with people who are sick.