(Recasts lede, adds IRFU and Six Nations comment)
By Graham Fahy
DUBLIN, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Ireland’s rugby union on Tuesday called for an urgent meeting with the minister for health after he said its Six Nations rugby fixture against Italy scheduled for March 7 in Dublin should not go ahead due to the coronavirus outbreak in northern Italy.
More than 280 cases have been diagnosed there, making it the worst-hit country in Europe and officials in Italy have been forced to cancel a number of sporting events, including two PRO14 rugby fixtures set to take place on Saturday.
“The very clear view of the public health emergency team was that this game should not go ahead,” the minister Simon Harris told national broadcaster RTE, adding that he would consult with the Irish Rugby Football Union.
Within hours, the IRFU responded, saying it was looking for an urgent meeting with the minister “as to the specific reasoning behind calling for the cancellation.”
It said it would not comment further until it gets an understanding of the governement’s “strategic policy on travel to and from Ireland and the cancellation of mass gatherings.”
In a statement, the chief medical officer in Ireland’s Department of Health, Tony Holohan, said the recommendation to cancel the match was based on the rapidly evolving nature of the outbreak in northern Italy, and on the consequent risk of importation of cases into Ireland should the game go ahead.
A spokeswoman for Six Nations said it was aware of the recommendation from the Irish Health Minister and will remain in close contact with the IRFU regarding the outcome of discussions with the Irish government.
After the first three rounds of the Six Nations, Ireland and England both have nine points, four behind leaders France.
There is a precedent for Six Nations’ matches being postponed due to health concerns. In 2001, three Ireland matches — against Scotland, Wales and England — were delayed by almost six months to limit the spread of foot and mouth disease.
There have been no confirmed reports of coronavirus in Ireland.
Last year, Italy had their Rugby World Cup game against New Zealand cancelled due to a typhoon. (Reporting by Graham Fahy; editing by John Stonestreet and Ian Chadband)