By Martyn Herman
(Reuters) - The final two stages of the UAE Tour, which is featuring some of the world's leading riders, has been canceled due to two Italian participants testing positive for coronavirus, the Abu Dhabi Sports Council said on Thursday.
The Council did not identify anyone but said that all of the race participants, staff and organizers were being screened for the flu-like virus.
"The decision has been taken to ensure protection of all the race's participants," the Council said in a statement, adding that "safety comes at the top of all priorities."
Several riders had earlier used social media to confirm they were being tested and that the event had been canceled.
"It's a shame that the #UAETour has been canceled but public health must come first," four-times Tour de France winner Chris Froome, making his comeback from injury at the race, said.
"We are all awaiting testing and will remain at the hotel until further notice. I hope those affected make a speedy recovery and there aren't any further cases #coronavirus."
Several teams commented on the premature end of the UCI World Tour race, which started on Sunday.
"We have taken note of the cancellation of the UAE Tour due to the occurrence of the coronavirus," the Dutch Jumbo-Visma team said on their Twitter feed.
"We wish all the people involved the very best, awaiting further developments."
The Italian Vini Zabu-KTM team said on Twitter: "In the hotel the local authorities are testing all the riders and the staff members #Coronavirus."
Israel's Omer Goldstein, riding for the Israel Start-Up Nation team posted a video on Twitter from the hotel.
"I go to sleep like every night and somebody knocked on my door in the middle of the night and said that the race is canceled," he said.
"We were surprised so we asked why and they said two people in the race organization, or from the riders, we don't know, had the sickness, the coronavirus."
Media reports said the official race hotel in Abu Dhabi was sealed off late on Thursday.
A report in Cycling News said riders, staff and journalists were not allowed to leave pending health checks.
The situation could have implications for the world track championships in Berlin. Danish rider Michael Morkov was at the UAE Tour until Wednesday and was due to join the Danish team in the German capital on Thursday, ahead of Sunday's madison.
A spokesperson from the British Cycling team in Berlin said the team doctor was liaising with the UCI medical team.
The new coronavirus COVID-19 has infected over 80,000 people and killed nearly 3,000, mostly in China.
The last two stages of the UAE Tour had been scheduled to be staged from Al Ruwais to Al Mirfa (158 km) on Saturday and Al Maryah Island to Abu Dhabi (127 km) on Sunday.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar)