England manager Gareth Southgate has joined other leading sports figures in urging people to “stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives” during the coronavirus pandemic.

The nation has been in lockdown since the start of the week as the authorities look to curb the spread of Covid-19, with 759 people so far having died in the UK after testing positive for the disease.

Support was shown to NHS workers and others who have been battling the coronavirus in a touching moment’s applause across the nation on Thursday evening.

Now sports stars are showing their appreciation by teaming up with the NHS to hammer home the message of saving lives by staying home, with England manager Southgate among those involved.

“Life is very different for us all at the moment and sport rightfully stands aside to support a more important cause during these unprecedented times,” the Three Lions boss said on Friday, when his side were due to face Italy in a friendly.

“We were supposed to be welcoming Italy and Denmark to Wembley Stadium in the coming days but football is insignificant as we are all in the midst of a global battle.

“Now is the time for sport to come together, speak with one voice and be united behind a very clear message: stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.”

Southgate was among those supporting the NHS’ #StayHomeSaveLives social media campaign, with online messages starting at 8pm on Friday – the time England were supposed to kick off against Italy, a country ravaged by coronavirus.

Wembley was lit in the colours of the Italian flag for 90 minutes from that time in a show of solidarity, with giant screens adjacent displaying the message ‘Siamo separati, ma siamo insieme. Forza Italia #DistantiMaUniti’, which translates as ‘We are separate, but we are together. Come on Italy #DistantButUnited’.

England star Raheem Sterling, who was in line to start the match, is due to be among the other football figures, along with the likes of Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Lionesses captain Steph Houghton, who will urge fans to stay at home.

“Last night’s show of support for the NHS shows how much we appreciate them and how we are all coming together to get through this as quickly and as safely as we can,” Houghton said.

“Football will return and we will appreciate it a little more for the joy it brings but for now stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.”

Others joining the campaign include British basketball player Justin Robinson, England Test captain Joe Root and women’s skipper Heather Knight.

Root said: “We’re normally doing our best to get you out of the house to pick up a bat or to get to a match but at the moment we all need to stay inside and do our own little bit to keep people safe.

“If we all work together to stay inside then we can help those working flat-out on the frontlines to save lives.”

This campaign is the latest way sport is attempting to help the country through the Covid-19 pandemic, while the NHS hopes that social media messages will help reinforce the message to the public.

NHS national medical director Professor Stephen Powis said: “Our NHS staff are working round the clock gearing up to deal with this unprecedented challenge and it’s fantastic to see sport stars helping to amplify their important message: stay home, save lives.”