Coronavirus: Italy's Six Nations matches against Ireland and England could be under threat

Ireland played Italy in August 2019
Italy's most recent match in Dublin was a World Cup warm-up match in August 2019

Six Nations organisers are "monitoring very closely" the coronavirus situation, with games under threat by the spread of the virus in Italy.

Seven people have died in Italy and 229 tested positive for the virus, while 11 towns in the north are in lockdown.

Italy's men and women's teams play in Ireland in two weeks before hosting England in the final round.

Scotland Women's match in Italy on Sunday was cancelled and is yet to be rearranged.

"Six Nations is monitoring this situation very closely and is in regular contact with the FIR (Italian Rugby Federation) and all other Unions and Federations as well as the relevant local authorities and health organisations," a statement from the organisers said.

An FIR spokesperson said that if government advice changes they would consider moving the women's team's next training camp which is scheduled to take place in Parma, just south of the at-risk Lombardy and Veneto regions.

"All measures adopted by the Italian government are due to expire on 1 March," an Italian Rugby Federation (FIR) spokesperson said.

"Until then, FIR will stick to those measures while keeping relevant stakeholders involved."

Two Pro14 matches scheduled for this weekend have been called off - Ospreys against Zebre in Parma and Ulster's trip to Treviso to face Benetton.

Ireland men are due to take on Italy at Dublin's Aviva Stadium on Saturday 7 March, while the women's match is on the following day at nearby Donnybrook.

In the final round of Six Nations fixtures, Italy's men host England in Rome on Saturday 14 March and the women are at home to England in Padua on 15 March.

Ireland's health minister Simon Harris said that "big decisions" will have to be made in the interest of public safety, adding that he was thinking particularly of the Ireland-Italy rugby match.

According to a study by the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 80% of those infected had suffered only mild symptoms with the sick and elderly most at risk of being affected more seriously.

A 'scary' experience in Milan

Journalist Jamie Lyall was in Legnano, to the north-west of Milan, to commentate on the Scotland Women game which was cancelled.

He describes the experience of being in Italy as towns were placed on lockdown as "scary".

"When we arrived in Milan there was no indication that anything was awry other than having a temperature check at the airport," he told BBC Radio 5 Live's Rugby Union Weekly.

"I was sitting in my hotel room on Saturday night and coronavirus was trending in the local area. That's when I started to get worried. Several towns had been placed on lockdown and no-one was getting in or out.

"The Scottish Rugby Union got the players and staff out of there pronto. They flew out on Sunday as soon as they found out the game was off.

"In the end all the flights operated as normal. There was no real sense of panic at the airport. The cabin crew checking us in had masks and gloves on but we didn't have the same temperature checks that we had coming in."

Map showing areas of northern Italy affected by coronavirus

What are the symptoms?

The main signs of infection are fever (high temperature) and a cough as well as shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.

What should I do?

Frequent handwashing with soap or gel, avoiding close contact with people who are ill and not touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands can help cut the risk of infection.

Catching coughs and sneezes in a tissue, binning it and washing your hands can minimise the risk of spreading disease.

What does 'pandemic' mean?

  • A pandemic is the worldwide spread of a new disease
  • The H1N1 (swine flu) outbreak, which killed hundreds of thousands of people, was declared a pandemic by the WHO in 2009
  • The WHO no longer formally labels an outbreak of disease a "pandemic" but says the term may be used "colloquially"
  • Its advice to countries - to limit the infections while preparing for wider spread - remains the same

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