File photo: AP
BUENOS AIRES, March 14 (Xinhua) -- Lionel Messi has called for people to "stay at home" and heed the advice of authorities in a bid to counter the coronavirus epidemic.
The Barcelona and Argentina forward's message came as the global death toll from the outbreak surpassed 5,000 on Saturday.
Messi said he is currently spending time with his family after the suspension of all major domestic and continental football competitions in Europe, as well as the postponement of the first two rounds of South America's 2022 World Cup qualifiers.
"Health must always come first," Messi said in an Instagram post. "It is an exceptional time and we must follow the instructions of health organizations and public authorities. Only by doing this can we effectively combat it.
"It is the time to be responsible and stay at home. It is also a perfect opportunity to enjoy family time, something that's not always possible."
Messi's words were accompanied by a photo of the 32-year-old with two of his children.
The six-time Ballon d'Or winner said he hoped "we can turn this situation around as soon as possible" and offered moral support to those directly impacted by the virus.
"These are complicated days for everyone," Messi said. "We are worried about what is happening and we want to help by putting ourselves in the place of those who are having the worst of it, either because it has directly affected them or their family and friends, or because they are working on the front line to combat it in hospitals and health centers. I want to send a lot of strength to all of them."