Northern Ireland news

Events cancelled, sporting fixtures called off and buildings closed amid coronavirus outbreak

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced that all schools, colleges and childcare facilities in the Republic will close until March 29 as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Picture by Niall Carson, Press Association

HUNDREDS of events have been cancelled and buildings closed across the island of Ireland as the coronavirus continues to hit.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's announcement of a crackdown on mass gatherings and the closure of schools, colleges, museums, galleries and tourism sites has led to the cancellation of many events, including some in Northern Ireland.

There were reports of panic-buying at several major supermarkets across the island, with one Tesco outlet in Dublin forced to limit the number of customers allowed into the store at one time.

Anecdotal evidence showed that many supermarkets across the north were also struggling to cope with demand for some goods, including toilet roll and hand wash.

Retail Ireland Director Arnold Dillon said there had been "significant elevated demand" for many groceries.

He said supply chains were working as normal but warned that they were not designed to deal with widespread bulk buying.

"It is important that consumers behave responsibility and don't buy more than they need," he said.

"Retailers are working with their suppliers and monitoring consumer behaviour to avoid any shortages."

In the Republic, members of the Defence Forces were called to their barracks.

The Defence Forces said all "non-essential activities have been suspended".

In a statement, it said: "Our focus now is to maximise our preparedness to respond to requests for assistance from the Civil Authorities."

RTÉ has closed its programmes, including The Late Late Show, to live audiences. The broadcaster has also limited movement across its campus in Donnybrook in Dublin.

Sporting events have been called off including the Guinness Pro14 rugby competition, which includes clubs from Ireland, Italy, Scotland, Wales and South Africa.

In Co Down, Down Royal racecourse said its St Patrick's Day race meeting on Tuesday will be held behind closed doors.

Chief executive Emma Meehan said: "We apologise for any inconvenience caused; however the health and safety of racegoers is our priority.

"Only runners, riders and trainers will be in attendance, with turnstiles closed to racegoers."

A total of 63 cases have been reported in Ireland - 20 in Northern Ireland and 43 in the Republic.

The number of confirmed cases in the UK has jumped from 456 to 590 - the largest day-on-day increase since the outbreak began.

Belfast City Council is to hold a special meeting tonight to discuss how it can help prevent the spread.

Lord Mayor Danny Baker said councillors will discuss issues including council staffing, civic responsibilities, services and events.

It is understood councillors will debate whether some council facilities, including leisure centres, should be closed.

"Elected representatives in Belfast City Council have also reiterated the need to follow public health guidance and to look out for those they know, family and friends who are vulnerable," he said.

Holy Trinity Boxing Club in Belfast is closed until further notice after a staff member in Holy Trinity Youth Centre was in contact with someone who tested positive for the virus.

The Youth Centre have said that neither the staff member nor any other member of staff has shown any symptoms. A spokesman said the boxing club is being closed "as a precautionary measure".

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