China's state anti-doping agency "temporarily" suspended testing on Monday less than six months before the Tokyo Olympics in response to the coronavirus epidemic, the International Testing Agency told AFP.
"The situation is one of caution so as not to endanger athletes or test officials and while recognising the importance of anti-doping activities, the priorities are to maintain public health for all," said the ITA, the body created in 2018 to carry out drug testing worldwide.
The 2020 Olympics start on July 24.
The Chinese agency (CHINADA) "will gradually resume testing as soon as the situation improves," the ITA said, adding that it was examining whether "private providers" could conduct tests.
"We are still six months away from the Tokyo games," an ITA spokeswoman said. "It is indeed likely that this will have an impact on the testing missions in China and solutions will have to be found."
The World Anti-Doping Agency said it was monitoring the problem.
"We are assisting CHINADA as it implements a plan that will maintain the integrity of the anti-doping program in China," said a WADA spokesman.
He added that it was up to anti-doping organisations such as ITA and CHINADA to ensure that "athletes are still being properly tested, despite the outbreak."
The Chinese authorities reported 57 new deaths from the virus on Monday, taking the tally past 360 since the virus was detected late last year in the central city of Wuhan, where it is believed to have jumped from animals.
The virus has infected more than 17,200 people in China, and spread to 24 countries.
"This is not the first time that such an outbreak has occurred," pointed out the WADA spokesman, citing SARS and Zika.
CHINADA carries out some 15,000 anti-doping tests a year, according to its website.
In 2017 it conducted more than 10,000 tests, the third most by any national agency behind Germany and Britain, according to WADA.
China is a sporting power both in competition and as a host.
It finished third in gold medals and second in total medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics and has high hopes for the Tokyo Games, but it has had some doping issues.
- 'Evolving situation' -
Swimmer Sun Yang, a three-time Olympic champion who was suspended for three months in 2014 for doping, is facing a second ban, for destroying his sample with a hammer after a doping control. The Court of Arbitration for Sport is expected to deliver a verdict soon.
A string of sports events in China have been cancelled due to the coronavirus.
All domestic football has been suspended and among the events either cancelled or postponed are the World Indoor Athletics championships, qualifiers for the Tokyo Olympics boxing and women's basketball and cycling's Tour of Hainan.
Also cancelled are snooker's China Open, badminton's China Masters and golf's LPGA Blue Bay tournament. The Chinese Formula E Grand Prix on March 21 was called off on Sunday.
The Chinese Formula One Grand Prix, in Shanghai on April 19, is also at risk, with the FIA announcing last Thursday it was "monitoring the evolving situation".
The ITA spokeswoman said that for events moved outside China the planned testing regimes would not be changed.
"We will continue to run the programme we have prepared, even if the competitions are held in other locations."
WADA said the testing agencies had to "ensure that the system is maintained while also operating in line with directives from health, law enforcement and border protection authorities".
In reponse to the coronavirus, anti-doping testing has been suspended in China