Six Nations clash with Italy is postponed; Three Donegal schools caught up in coronavirus scare

The Six Nations game between Ireland and Italy has been postponed.

The decision follows a meeting between Health Minister Simon Harris and the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) and a strong recommendation from health authorities that the game be cancelled.

The concern centres on fans who are set to travel from northern Italy-where the virus has killed a number of people and infected towns-to Ireland for the fixture and what might happen if crowds from both countries mingled at close proximity in the Aviva Stadium.

In a statement, the IRFU said that they were happy to "comply" with the National Public Health Emergency teams determination that the games scheduled should not proceed.

The statement read: "The IRFU had a positive meeting with Minister Harris and his advisors today, where we requested a formal instruction as to the staging of the Ireland v Italy international matches over the weekend of 6/8 March.

"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.

"We were then advised, formally, that The National Public Health Emergency team has determined that the series of matches should not proceed, in the interests of Public Health.

"The IRFU is happy to comply with this instruction.

"We will immediately begin to work with our Six Nations partners to look at the possibility of rescheduling the matches and would hope to have an update on this in the coming days."

The IRFU is asking ticket holders to retain their tickets for now and it will provide ticket holders with tickets for the rescheduled games or a refund. Information on both these options will be released as soon as possible.

IRFU representatives, from left, Padraig Slattery, IRFU Chief Operating Officer Kevin Potts, IRFU Chief Executive Philip Browne and IRFU Director of Communications Stephen McNamara following a meeting with Minister for Health Simon Harris at the Department of Health in Dublin today. Pic: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
IRFU representatives, from left, Padraig Slattery, IRFU Chief Operating Officer Kevin Potts, IRFU Chief Executive Philip Browne and IRFU Director of Communications Stephen McNamara following a meeting with Minister for Health Simon Harris at the Department of Health in Dublin today. Pic: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Harris said: “It gave me an opportunity to outline, along with the Chief Medical Officer, the determination made by the National Public Emergency Team yesterday.

“A number of decisions were made by our health experts in an effort to contain the spread of Covid-19.

“One of those decisions related to mass gatherings and obviously there was a particular issue in relation to a series of rugby games due to take place on the weekend of the 6th, 7th and 8th of March.

“It was good to have an opportunity to outline the rationale behind that to the IRFU and I very much appreciate the importance that they too attach to public health, and they were understanding in that regard.”

I know this is going to be a source of great disappointment to so many rugby fans right across our own country.

Ticketing arrangements and the rescheduling of the Six Nations game will be decided in the days ahead. IRFU sources have not ruled out it going ahead in a few weeks’ time.

Ireland’s chief medical officer said the decision to cancel the matches was “not made lightly”.

Meanwhile, in Donegal, Three secondary schools have become caught up in the coronavirus scare.

All three schools have recently returned from skiing trips to Italy where the virus is spreading.

Two of the schools have sent pupils home and asked them not to return to classes for a number of days.

However, a third school, Carndonagh Community School, has not sent pupils home.

A total of 72 pupils and teachers from the school returned from a trip to Northern Italy.

However, the school said they had liaised with the HSE and were satisfied with the precautions they had taken.

Vice-principal John McGuinness said they are advising students to self-isolate if displaying symptoms of the coronavirus as a precautionary measure.

All students who were on the trip were given the option of staying at home but none had taken up this offer.

The first school to advise pupils to stay at home was Loreto in Milford.

It yesterday informed 28 pupils who had traveled to Italy last week on a skiing holiday to stay at home.

Another school, Scoil Mhuire in Buncrana, had originally allowed pupils to return to school following a similar skiing trip.

However, all pupils who were on the trip were today ordered home from school as a matter of precaution after their parents were telephoned.

Additional reporting Stephen Maguire and Juno McEnroe

Earlier: 'We will comply with any directive given' - IRFU want Govt to take the lead as Italy game in doubt

The IRFU have asked the government to give them a directive in relation to the potential postponement of the Six Nations clash between Ireland and Italy.

It comes after Dr Tony Holohan, Ireland's chief medical officer, defended the decision to call for the cancellation of the game, saying it was “not made lightly”.

Speaking to Morning Ireland he said that it was “the only responsible decision that could have been made”.

“This won’t be the only mass gathering that we will look at but this is one that is coming quite soon and obviously involving an area in Europe that has been added to the list of (affected) countries.

This afternoon IRFU chief executive Philip Browne responded saying it was up to the government to take the lead on the situation.

"We are looking for a directive on this," he said.

At the end of the day, the Government are here to lead the country and lead the country in relation to public health decisions.

"I think it is somewhat unfair to be asking the IRFU to be making decisions like this. Ultimately, we will comply with any directive that is given."

IRFU chief executive Philip Browne
IRFU chief executive Philip Browne

Mr Browne said he was happy to meet with the Minister and discuss the matter further.

Call to cancel Ireland - Italy clash defended

Earlier 11.10am: Dr Tony Holohan, Ireland's chief medical officer, says there is no advice to cancel Dublin's St Patrick's Day Parade yet, having previously defended Department of Heath advice to cancel the Six Nations tie between Ireland Italy.

Dr Holohan says however that the advice on the St Patrick's Day parade is subject to change.

The medical officer said: "The organisers of that [the parade] will be in a position to get in touch with the health service and to seek advice in relation to the nature of that event.

Six Nations clash with Italy is postponed; Three Donegal schools caught up in coronavirus scare

"And like with every mass gathering, what we call a risk assessment in line with those international guidelines will be conducted and that will inform the decision.

"It is impossible to predict for something that is more than a couple of weeks away because factors that are not known to us now might come into some of those decisions."

Hundreds of thousands of tourists attend Dublin's St Patrick's Day Parade every year bringing in millions for the economy.

Dr Holohan, said the decision to call for the cancellation of the Ireland vs Italy Six Nations match was “not made lightly”.

Speaking to Morning Ireland he said that it was “the only responsible decision that could have been made”.

“This won’t be the only mass gathering that we will look at but this is one that is coming quite soon and obviously involving an area in Europe that has been added to the list of (affected) countries.

We could make no other responsible advice or decision

His comments come as acting Minister for Health Simon Harris meets with representatives from the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) to discuss next Saturday’s game.

The IRFU sought an urgent meeting over the calls to postpone the Ireland-Italy clash.

The Department of Health’s National Public Health Emergency Team recommended the match should be postponed at a meeting yesterday.

Ireland taking on Italy last August in a World Cup warm-up.
Ireland taking on Italy last August in a World Cup warm-up.

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.

They said they will "remain in close contact with them [the IRFU] regarding the outcome of those discussions.”

Meanwhile, Dr Holohan added that he would not be recommending restricting foreign travel.

He said: “We don’t think that would be a proportionate measure, WHO (World Health Organisation) is not recommending cancellation or restrictions on foreign travel.

“We make specific travel advisories available and in this country we do that through the Department of Foreign Affairs.”

He said: “I think the IRFU is a responsible organisation and would be willing to work with us to ensure that a measure that we have advised – no one wants to find themselves in a position of having to cancel or recommend (a match) not taking place.

“I’m sure they, as a responsible organisation, will be – just as we are – minded to act in the interests of health and welfare, not only for their spectators but players.

Asked if the game should be played behind closed doors, Dr Holohan said: “That would be a matter for them.”

Earlier: Ireland's Chief Medical Officer defends call to cancel Ireland - Italy clash

Ireland's Chief Medical Officer is defending its advice for Ireland to cancel its Six Nations match against Italy.

The Health Minister and IRFU will meet later to discuss the proposed cancellation over fears of the coronavirus spreading.

Ireland in action against Wales earlier in the tournament.
Ireland in action against Wales earlier in the tournament.

So far 11 people have died in Italy from Covid-19.

Irish people returning from four regions in the country are being advised to self-isolate if they feel unwell.

Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Health, Dr Tony Holohan, says cancelling the match would be the responsible decision.

"That event is the 7th of March which is less than 14 days away and 14 days is the incubation period for this infection," he said.

There have been a lot of cases in that region of Italy and we expect that number to increase over the coming days.

"And I think it would be nothing other than irresponsible if we were to recommend otherwise.

"So we think this is the only responsible public health advice we could give."

Yesterday the IRFU sought an urgent meeting with acting Minister for Health Simon Harris for the "specific reasoning" for calls to cancel the Six-Nations fixture.

In a statement 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."

Dr Holohan added that there is no advice to cancel Dublin's St Patrick's Day Parade as of yet but that could change.

Speaking earlier today, the Irish Pharmacy Union said their members are reporting shortages of face masks and hand sanitiser in pharmacies across the country.

But the President of the IPU, Daragh Connolly, says there is no evidence to suggest a face-mask will protect against coronavirus.

He said: "We are starting to see shortages in some pharmacies around the country.

A woman wearing a face mask checks her phone in a subway in Milan, Italy, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)
A woman wearing a face mask checks her phone in a subway in Milan, Italy, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

"Why we want to be able to talk to the public this morning as pharmacists in Ireland, is to be able to reassure people that there is no evidence out there to say that a mask will give you any protection whatsoever from Covid-19 or that people in Ireland are exposed to Covid-19.

"I would say however that hand sanitiser is really an excellent thing to have for your own personal hygiene."

Preparations by the Irish public services are still taking place and the National Public Health Emergency Team is to immediately ramp up warning campaigns about the spread of coronavirus at ports, airports, schools, and public offices.

Meanwhile, around 80 students from three Waterford schools were identified as “high risk” for the coronavirus, having returned from affected areas in Italy.

So far, there have been 90 suspected cases in Ireland, but none of them have tested positive for the virus.

Pupils from three schools in the North were earlier sent home as a precaution against coronavirus after returning from ski trips to Italy.

The pupils from schools in counties Antrim, Derry, and Down, were all on separate trips to Italy recently.

Around 50 pupils and staff from Cambridge House Grammar School in Ballymena, Co Antrim, were in the Lombardy region in the north of Italy.

In Tenerife, a number of Irish people staying at the hotel at the centre of a virus outbreak on the Canary island have contacted the Department of Foreign Affairs.

They are among around 1,000 tourists staying at the H10 Costa Adeje Palace Hotel who have been placed in quarantine inside the building.

This story was updated at 10.34am.

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