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Irish Transport Minister: We can't stop rugby fans travelling from Italy to Ireland but we don't encourage it

Chief medical officer at the Department of Health, Tony Holohan, said the decision to call for the cancellation of the Ireland vs Italy 6 Nations match was "not made lightly".

Dr Holohan said that it was "the only responsible decision that could have been made" given the Coronavirus outbreak in Italy.

He told Morning Ireland: "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 Minister for Health Simon Harris meets with representatives from the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) to discuss next Saturday's game.

The Department of Health's National Public Health Emergency Team recommended the match should be postponed at a meeting on Tuesday afternoon.

Irish Transport Minister Shane Ross said that while he can't stop rugby fans travelling from Italy to Ireland, he did not want to encourage mass gatherings.

"You certainly don't want to encourage them to gather in a big arena," he told RTE.

"But you can't stop them coming - that would be absolutely wrong. We are keeping the border open, we are not going that far.

"But we are certainly not going to encourage measures which are going to heighten the risk."

Dr Holohan also said 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 added: "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."

If next Saturday's rugby match is cancelled it could cost millions of euro.

Asked who will pick up the bill, 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."

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