Northern Ireland

Coronavirus: Flights to Italy suspended and St Patrick's Day celebrations called off

Ryanair and several other airlines have suspended flights to an from Italy amid the coronavirus outbreak. Picture by Nick Ansell, Press Association
Ryanair and several other airlines have suspended flights to an from Italy amid the coronavirus outbreak. Picture by Nick Ansell, Press Association Ryanair and several other airlines have suspended flights to an from Italy amid the coronavirus outbreak. Picture by Nick Ansell, Press Association

FLIGHTS to Italy have been cancelled for up to six weeks, St Patrick's Day celebrations across Northern Ireland have been called off and a major conference in Belfast has been stopped as the coronavirus continues to spread.

Ryanair, Aer Lingus, British Airways (BA) and Jet2 have all cancelled flights to and from Italy.

Ryanair, which operates routes to Milan from Belfast International, has suspended all its Italian flights until April 8 while Aer Lingus has cancelled all flights to and from the country until April 3.

BA has axed its 60 UK flights a day to cities including Milan, Venice and Rome. Jet2 has cancelled all its Italian trips for almost six weeks until April 26.

St Patrick's Day parades in Downpatrick, Co Down, Newry, Derry and Strabane were cancelled yesterday after parades in Dublin and Belfast were called off.

Derry mayor Michaela Boyle, said that the decision was taken as a precautionary measure. “We have been reviewing the situation daily and following the advice of the health agencies in relation to Covid19, felt that we should be proactive in our response regarding public events."

A spokesman for Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, which covers Downpatrick and Newry, said yesterday: "The council appreciates the negative impact this decision may have on local businesses at this time, however the decision has been taken as a precaution given our members' and the public's concern around the coronavirus response."

The cancellation comes after Newtownhamilton High School and Newtownhamilton Primary School, several miles from Newry, were closed until next week after a pupil tested positive for the virus.

However, Northern Ireland's Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride has said he does not advise the cancelling of further large public events.

It came as Omniplex Cinemas introduced "seat separation" where every other seat will be left empty in a bid to stop the spread of the virus.

The firm operates several cinemas across the north including in Dundonald, Belfast, Carrickfergus, Newry and Omagh.

Other measures include getting cinema-goers to scan their own tickets, more regular cleaning and hand sanitising stations in every foyer.

The Royal Economic Society has cancelled its annual conference which was due to be held at Queen's University Belfast next month.

Up to 600 people were expected to attend the prestigious conference from April 6-8.

The move will have a knock-on effect on hotel and restaurant bookings for delegates.

The conference will be held at Queen's next year.

Major sporting events including the Macrory cup final are due to go ahead next week.

St Colman's Newry is to play St Patrick's Maghera on Tuesday.

Seamus Woods, Ulster Schools' secretary, said: "We had a meeting last night to finalise all our arrangements, everything’s in place."

"We’ll take all the relevant advice into consideration and act responsibly," he said.

There is precedent to cancel the match.

In 2001, the foot and mouth outbreak meant that the drawn final between St Michael's Enniskillen and Omagh CBS could not be replayed.

A spokeswoman for Ulster Rugby said the schools cup final between Royal School Armagh and Wallace High School at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast on Tuesday will still go ahead at this stage.

The Republic's Euro 2020 play-off with Slovakia in Bratislava on March 26 will be played behind closed doors following a decision by the Slovak government.

Northern Ireland's match against Bosnia-Herzegovina in Zenica on March 26 may also be played in an empty stadium.

In Dublin, lectures at Trinity College will only be delivered online from today.

The university said tutorials, seminars and laboratory practicals will go ahead as normal.

The Book of Kells and Old Library, the Science Gallery and the Douglas Hyde Gallery in the university were closed from yesterday afternoon.

Dublin City University has postponed spring graduation ceremonies that were due to take place later this month.

Queen's University Belfast and Ulster University said they are remaining open and are operating in line with advice from the Public Health Agency.

A spokeswoman for Queen's said: "This is a rapidly evolving situation which the University is closely monitoring and is putting in place the appropriate contingency measures which will be communicated to staff and students when appropriate".