Coronavirus: Ireland-Italy Six Nations rugby matches postponed

Russell Hope, news reporter
The Six Nations rugby matches between Ireland and Italy in Dublin has been postponed

The Six Nations rugby matches between Ireland and Italy in Dublin have been postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Philip Browne, the head of the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU), said in a statement: "Ireland v Italy international matches should not proceed in the interests of public health.

"The IRFU is perfectly happy to comply with this instruction. We will work with Six Nations partners to look at the possibility of rescheduling those three matches and we hope to have an update on that in the coming days.

"At the outset we made it clear that the IRFU was supportive of the governments' need to protect public health in relation to the coronavirus ."

:: Listen to the Daily podcast on Apple Podcasts , Google Podcasts , Spotify , Spreaker

The announcement follows a meeting between the IRFU and Ireland's health minister Simon Harris.

On Tuesday, he called for the 7 March match to not go ahead for fear of helping the disease spread.

According to Mr Harris, the country's public health emergency team had said the fixture would be "a significant risk because a very large number of people would be travelling from what is now an affected region".

Ten people have died in Italy due to the virus , according to Johns Hopkins University in the US, which is compiling data on the outbreak, while there are more than 370 confirmed cases in the country. Italian health authorities put the number of deaths at 12.

More than 81,000 confirmed and suspected cases of COVID-19 have been declared globally, while more than 2,700 people have died and more than 30,000 people who contracted the disease have recovered.

Ireland's Six Nations matches in the women's championship and the under-20s game on the same weekend have also been called off.

Scotland Women's match in Italy on Sunday was cancelled and is yet to be rearranged, while two club rugby matches involving Italian sides were also called off.

A Europa League game in Milan is to be played behind closed doors on Thursday, UEFA has confirmed, after four Serie A fixtures were postponed over the weekend.

Reports in Italy claim Juventus' top-of-the-table clash with Inter on Sunday could be among several fixtures played in empty stadiums this weekend as regional restrictions are extended.

Italy's final match of the championship is against England in Rome on 14 March.

Meanwhile, Japan has insisted the Tokyo Olympics will not be affected by the outbreak after a veteran Olympic official said the games could be cancelled.

Dick Pound, a former International Olympic Committee (IOC) vice president, said a decision on July's event would have to be made within three months.

"You could certainly go to two months out if you had to. A lot of things have to start happening. You've got to start ramping up your security, your food, the Olympic Village, the hotels, the media folks will be in there building their studios," he said.

For the time being, Mr Pound said preparations were a case of "business as usual".

Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga dismissed Mr Pound's comments.

"The IOC is proceeding with preparations toward the games as scheduled," he said.

But despite that stance, the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, asked organisers of large sports and cultural events to either suspend, postpone or reduce attendance for the next two weeks to help stop the spread of the illness.

Japan has a total of 860 cases, the third highest behind China and South Korea, including 691 passengers and crew from the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Yokohama harbour.

Sky News will air a special programme on the COVID-19 outbreak at the 7pm tonight.