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Canada's Sports Hall of Fame 2019 inductee and PWHPA president Jayna Hefford speaks in Toronto on Oct. 23, 2019.

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Japan’s ice hockey federation has cancelled its national women’s team’s games against North America’s top players because of the new coronavirus.

The Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association announced just last week a Dream Gap Tour stop in Tokyo.

The PWHPA, which includes the top names in the game, was scheduled to take on the Japanese women in a three-game series March 4-5 and March 7.

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A viral outbreak that began in China has infected more than 79,000 people globally.

The World Health Organization has named the illness COVID-19, referring to its origin late last year and the coronavirus that causes it.

The PWHPA is playing a series of tournaments and exhibition games this winter to drum up support for a sustainable professional league for themselves.

“This is very disappointing for our players and staff, who were very much looking forward to this experience and working with the Japanese Ice Hockey Federation to grow the women’s game,” PWHPA president Jayna Hefford said on Twitter. “However, we will always make the health and safety of our players and staff a priority.”

The roughly 200 players in the union refused to play in the U.S.-based NWHL because they don’t feel that league is sustainable.

PWHPA players Marie-Philip Poulin, Natalie Spooner, Kendall Coyne Schofield, Brianna Decker and Hilary Knight were among the players invited by the NHL to participate in its all-star skills competition in January.

The PWHPA is playing in a three-day Philadelphia Women’s Hockey Showcase starting Friday.

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Another tournament is scheduled March 6-8 in Tempe, Ariz.

“The Japan Ice Hockey Federation felt compelled to cancel the event in light of the worsening coronavirus outbreak in the region,” the PWHPA said Monday in a statement.

“The health and safety of the players and supporters is their primary concern at this time.”

With files from The Associated Press

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