Italy Six Nations rugby game postponed as coronavirus panic spreads across Europe

The Guinness Six Nations match between Ireland an Italy has been postponed as Europe struggles to contain the spread of coronavirus.

The sides had been scheduled to play in Dublin on March 7, but the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) announced the fixture had been postponed - a move likely to cost millions of euro.

Italy has registered at least 374 confirmed cases of the coronavirus - the biggest outbreak of the viral pneumonia in Europe. Northern areas of the country have been most impacted, with 10 towns on army-manned lockdown.

Elsewhere at least six schools in the UK have closed, while others have sent pupils home, for fear they may have been exposed to coronavirus during ski trips to northern Italy.

Hancock also said there was no reason for schools to close while pupils were being tested.

Italian Army soldiers check transit to and from the cordoned areas in Turano Lodigiano. Credit: AP

In the UK, 7,132 people have been tested for coronavirus with 13 testing positive. Eight of those who tested positive have been discharged from hospital.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons on Wednesday that a specialist isolation unit for passengers arriving at Heathrow Airport has been set up to limit the spread of infection.

Mr Hancock added that similar measures could be taken at other international travel hubs if necessary.

Matt Hancock addressed the House of Commons on Wednesday about the coronavirus outbreak.

The IRFU said the decision to postpone the Six Nations rugby fixture against Italy was made following a meeting with Irish Health Minister Simon Harris .

Ireland were also due to play Italy in an Under-20 Six Nations game and women's international that weekend.

In a statement, the IRFU said: "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 sporting body is yet to give information as to whether ticket holders will be eligible for refunds or compensation.

A woman sits on an empty subway carriage in Milan as Italy tries to contain the outbreak. Credit: AP

Ireland's Health Minister Simon Harris said: "I know this is going to be a source of great disappointment to so many rugby fans right across our own country and indeed beyond in relation to the impact of the Six Nations, but I think it's the right decision.

Ireland's Chief Medical Officer said the decision to cancel the matches was "not made lightly".

Tony Holohan said it was "the only responsible decision that could have been made" because mass gatherings of people create a particular risk.

Asked who would foot the bill for the cost of postponing the match, Dr Holohan said: "We are having an engagement with the IRFU after this conference and I don't want to pre-empt the outcome of that discussion.

On Wednesday afternoon health chiefs in Northern Ireland said they believed a new infection is near "inevitable".

An isolation unit has been established at a Belfast hospital ahead of an expected first case and preparations have been stepped up at the country's hospitals and GP surgeries.

Ireland beat Italy 26 - 16 in the 2019 Six Nations championship. Credit: PA

The reaction comes as fears of the virus spreading in Europe grew, with Austria, Croatia and Switzerland reporting their first cases of the illness, while Spain and France recorded new ones - also involving people who had been to northern Italy.

The first positive test in South America has been recorded in a 61-year-old Brazilian man who had recently been to northern Italy.

Outside of China, Iran has the highest number of deaths with at least 50 reported amid fears the spread of the illness could be much worse that stated.

The head of country's counter-coronavirus task force has tested positive for the virus himself.

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Despite reactions from sporting bodies and schools, the UK's minister for crime says emergency services "are prepared" should the UK see an outbreak of coronvirus.

Kit Malthouse told ITV News the government's emergency committee Cobra had been carrying out rehearsal exercises.

He added: "The police are prepared, if required, to deal with some of the events that may occur on the streets.

"Or indeed to enforce quarantine if it's needed."

Elsewhere, holidaymakers staying at a Tenerife hotel remain quarantined in their rooms after an Italian guest tested positive for coronavirus.

Guests staying at the four-star H10 Costa Adeje Palace in the south west of the island were sent a letter on Tuesday morning saying the hotel is "closed down" and they must remain in their rooms until further notice.

One family told ITV News they feared running out of supplies for their one-year-old baby while stuck in their hotel room.

As virus cases rose outside of China - where the disease originated from - deaths from the disease slowed in the country.

China has reported at least 77,658 confirmed cases and 2,663 deaths following the outbreak in December last year.

The country has seen a significant slowdown in recent weeks.

On Wednesday, Dr Bruce Aylward, who led the joint World Health Organistation-Chinese mission to Wuhan, the centre of the outbreak, said countries across the world should "prepare for a potential pandemic".

He added China had taken "extraordinary" measures to combat the virus, but said other nations were "simply not ready" for reining in the outbreak.

Countries around the globe have responded to the coronavirus outbreak. Credit: PA
  • What other sporting events have been affected?

Inter Milan's Europa League match at home to Ludogorets is set to be played behind closed doors on Thursday.

It comes after four Serie A matches were postponed last weekend.

In football, Italy are due to play England at Wembley in a friendly on March 27 - the FA is meeting to discuss that match as well as other matters related to the outbreak.

Officials are working with Six Nations partners to reschedule the Ireland v Italy match, but it is unclear if any other fixtures will be affected.

The tournament has two rounds of scheduled action remaining, and is due to conclude in Paris on March 14.