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Chinese Ambassador: Ireland can learn lessons from how China initially handled Covid-19 outbreak

He suggested mass gatherings should be avoided immediately and that he supported the government’s view that the Six Nations game should be postponed.

THE CHINESE AMBASSADOR to Ireland has said he supports the government’s decision to recommend cancelling the Ireland v Italy Six Nations match next month over coronavirus fears.

He also told TheJournal.ie that he believes lessons can be learned from the initial delay in locking down China’s Hubei province where the virus originated. 

The IRFU yesterday confirmed it would postpone the rugby match due to take place at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on 7 March, following a recommendation from the government’s National Public Health Emergency Team. 

Two other games, the under 20s Ireland v Italy game and the women’s Ireland v Italy game were scheduled for 6 and 8 March, and have also been postponed.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Ambassador He Xiangdong suggested that mass gatherings should now be avoided in Ireland as the virus continues to spread across Europe. 

“I think it is up to the people of Ireland to make the decision, and the Irish government to make the decision, but our own lesson and experience is to try and avoid unnecessary mass gatherings,” he said. 

The outbreak in China coincided with thousands of people travelling for the Spring Festival or Chinese New Year, delaying the lockdown of Wuhan in Hubei province – the epicentre of the virus outbreak. 

“Just before the Spring Festival in Hubei province on 25 January, in the capital city of Wuhan – a few days before that they already had quite a number of confirmed cases but they still stuck to some mass gathering activities there.

So the result is that it turned out to be a bad decision.

“I will say that making this kind of decision is always painful, not only for the government and the local community and the relative institutions, like Rugby Union, the audience, the fans of the Irish rugby team.”

He Xiangdong took up residence as the ambassador to Ireland last May – the 14th ambassador to Ireland over a forty year period. 

More than 2,600 people have died from the novel coronavirus so far, with the vast majority of those deaths occurring in China. 

While the World Health Organisation suggested China acted fast in mitigating the spread, it has been criticised by others, including the US government which claims it failed to warn people of the virus in an appropriate time frame. 

The virus has since spread to dozens of countries worldwide, with European countries like Croatia and Switzerland now rallying to halt it spreading. 

Italy has been worst hit so far in Europe with 11 people dead and authorities reporting more than 300 other confirmed cases. 

“The situation now in Italy should be taken as great concern for us living here in Europe because it is close in Europe and the virus knows no border, especially here in Europe because there is no boundary among EU member countries,” the ambassador said. 

“I think that [Italian authorities] were quick, quite frankly. It just took a few days for the local government in northern parts of Italy to make the decision to lockdown the cities and the towns. 

“Our lessons in Hubei province is that it took several weeks for the local government to put it on lockdown and that’s because it’s a difficult decision and it was just before the Spring Festival.”

Italy cancelled its annual Venice carnival events within days of the first confirmed cases in the country. Ambassador He said he recognised the difficult task in calling these events off but agreed with the view of Health Minister Simon Harris that mass gatherings should be avoided.

“That is a huge sacrifice in Venice,” he said.

“I think for the [people's] sake, I totally agree with Minister Harris in what he said – that public health trumps sport.”

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