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Harris to meet with IRFU after Dept says Ireland - Italy Six Nations game shouldn't go ahead

Sports minister Shane Ross said he backed the government’s recommendation.

Updated Feb 25th 2020, 9:00 PM

THE GOVERNMENT WILL be recommending that the Ireland – Italy Six Nations Game does not go ahead due to ongoing fears over the coronavirus, Health Minister Simon Harris has said.

Speaking on RTÉ One’s Six One News, he said it was the “very clear view” of the National Public Health Emergency Team that the game should not go ahead in the interests of public safety.

He said that the department would be contacting the IRFU to convey this ahead of the game which was scheduled for 7 March.

The IRFU subsequently said it was not in a position to comment further and was seeking an urgent meeting with Harris to understand the reasoning behind the decision. 

Harris said he would meet with the IRFU tomorrow morning.

Several regions of Italy have been badly affected by the coronavirus, with over 200 people diagnosed so far.

90 cases have been tested in Ireland, but all have come back negative. No one in Ireland has yet tested positive for the coronavirus.

Harris said: “My department will be contacting the IRFU in relation to this. I know when it comes to cause a great disappointment to many, but it is important to make decisions in relation to public health above and beyond all other considerations.”

In a statement this evening, the IRFU said: “The IRFU is seeking 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.

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.

The Six Nations championship also said in a statement that it was aware of Harris’ remarks and said it would remain in close contact with the IRFU.

Harris also said that the advice from health authorities would now be updated to include travel advisories for anyone who’s been to other areas with a large number of diagnoses of coronavirus, with parts of Italy and Japan joining China in its advice.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said it will be updating its travel advice later this evening. 

It will mean that anyone who has been to any of these areas in the past 14 days and feels flu-like symptoms is urged to self-isolate and contact their GP.

This is the same for anyone who’s been in close contact with a confirmed case of coronavirus in the past 14 days. 

Anyone who’s been to these areas in the past 14 days but doesn’t feel any symptoms and is feeling well is told to visit www.HSE.ie.

In a statement, Department of Health chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said:

“Having assessed recent developments in Europe and globally, Ireland remains in a Containment Phase.

However, based on European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) guidelines, the cancellation of mass gatherings in this phase is justified in exceptional circumstances, and today’s recommendation to cancel the Ireland v Italy rugby match is based on the rapidly evolving nature of the outbreak in northern Italy, and the consequent risk of importation of cases into Ireland were the match to go ahead.

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Sean Murray

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