"In today’s environment, Americans need their sports. It’s time to reopen the economy and it’s time we get our professional athletes back to work," Wolf said in a statement issued by the department announcing he had signed an order for the exemption.

President Donald Trump's administration is pushing to reopen the American economy after drastic measures to combat the pandemic this year put tens of millions of people out of work.

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Major U.S. professional sports were shut down as part of the effort to tackle COVID-19, the respiratory disease cause by the coronavirus which has killed more than 94,000 people and infected 1.57 million in the United States.

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In its response to the epidemic, the Trump administration has also imposed bans on entry of travellers from China, where the epidemic started, as well as Iran and much of Europe.

Besides the athletes, the exemption applies to the sporting leagues' essential staff, spouses and dependents, the statement said.

The sports covered by the exemption include Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the Women's National Basketball Association, the Professional Golfers' Association Tour, the Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour, the National Hockey League, the Association of Tennis Professionals, and the Women's Tennis Association.

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