The Guinness Six Nations match between Ireland and Italy on March 7 should not take place due to the risk posed by the coronavirus, the Health Minister of Ireland has said.
China has reported 77,658 cases and 2,663 deaths following the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus that has spread to a variety of countries, including Italy where authorities have swiftly put in restrictions.
The Department of Health in Ireland’s National Public Health Emergency Team recommended the game should be postponed following a meeting on Tuesday afternoon, but the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) has since called for the Minister to explain the “specific reasoning” behind his comments.
Health Minister Simon Harris told RTE news: “The very clear view of the public health emergency team was that this game should not go ahead and that it would constitute a significant risk, because a very large number of people will be travelling from what is now an affected region.
“So my department will be contacting the IRFU (Irish Rugby Football Union) in relation to this.
“I know (it will) cause a great disappointment to many, but it is important to make decisions in relation to public health above and beyond all other considerations.”
The IRFU said in a statement it would seek “an urgent meeting with Minister Harris as to the specific reasoning behind calling for the cancellation of the Ireland v Italy Six Nations fixture in the context of the Government’s overall travel policy to and from Italy and other affected countries.”
The statement continued: “Until such time as the IRFU has had contact with the Minister and gets an understanding of the government’s strategic policy on travel to and from Ireland and the cancellation of mass gatherings, it is not in a position to comment further.
A statement from Six Nations organisers read: “Six Nations is aware of today’s recommendation from the Irish Health Minister in relation to the upcoming Six Nations Championship match between Ireland and Italy on Saturday March 7.
“The IRFU has sought an urgent meeting with the Irish Government to discuss the matter further and we will remain in close contact with them regarding the outcome of those discussions.”
Transport Minister Shane Ross said that while he cannot stop rugby fans travelling from Italy to Ireland, he does not want to encourage mass gatherings.
“You certainly don’t want to encourage them to gather in a big arena,” he told RTE.
“But you can’t stop them coming – that would be absolutely wrong. We are keeping the border open, we are not going that far.
“But we are certainly not going to encourage measures which are going to heighten the risk.”