As a result of the epidemic of new coronavirus which now affects Europe, the match of the Six Nations Tournament between Ireland and Italy, scheduled for March 7 in Dublin, was postponed Wednesday to an unknown date.
“We will immediately start working with our Six Nations partners to explore the possibility of rescheduling the game,” the Irish Rugby Federation (IRFU) said in a statement after meeting with Health Minister Simon Harris.
The minister also welcomed “the importance attached by the Federation to public health issues” to the BBC.
A pure and simple cancellation is not on the agenda, this match representing an important sporting as well as an economic stake, for the federation as for the whole city of Dublin and for all the supporters who bought tickets and booked flights and hotels.
The Irish authorities are trying by this decision to avoid importing the epidemic into Ireland, which has not registered any positive case linked to the new coronavirus whereas Italy is the most affected European country with more than 370 cases and twelve dead.
According to the Irish federation, some 2,400 Italian supporters were to make the trip to Ireland, where the matches of the women’s and under-20 teams between the two nations, also scheduled for March 6 and 8, were also to be played.
On the last day of the Tournament, Italy will host England on March 14 in Rome.
– “Risk of importing cases” –
Italy is the country most affected by the epidemic of viral pneumonia in Europe: twelve people have died and 374 cases have been reported.
In the north of the country, 52,000 inhabitants of eleven municipalities have been placed in strict quarantine and new cases have been detected in Tuscany (center) and Sicily (south).
Several European countries have issued recommendations for people returning from these regions, asking to avoid any non-essential exit for 14 days, a period deemed sufficient to cover the incubation period of the virus.
The Irish federation said on Wednesday it supported “the need for governments to protect public health with regard to the coronavirus”.
As early as Tuesday, the Irish health authorities had recommended the postponement of the match because of the risk of spreading the epidemic.
Irish medical chief Tony Holohan had recommended that the match not be held due to “the rapid development of the epidemic in northern Italy, and (the) consequential risk of importing cases”.
– In 2001, the Tournament ended in October –
Unlike Ireland-Italy, the football Champions League match between Lyon and Juventus Turin, Wednesday night in Lyon, was maintained, raising criticism and questions as 3,000 Italian supporters were to attend the meeting.
In Italy, many sporting events have been canceled or rescheduled. Four Serie A football matches have been postponed when others will be played behind closed doors, such as the clash between Juventus and Inter Milan in the league on Sunday.
A match of the Women’s Six Nations Tournament between Italy and Scotland scheduled for last Sunday and two matches of the Pro14, rugby competition between British, Italian and South African teams, scheduled this weekend in Italy, were also postponed.
The previous postponement of Tournament matches for health reasons dates back to 2001; the calendar had been turned upside down by an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the UK.
Scheduled in the spring, the Scotland-Ireland, Wales-Ireland, and Ireland-England meetings were played in the fall. On October 20, 2001, the Irish, victorious (20-14), had deprived the English of the Grand Slam.