France v Ireland in doubt as mass gatherings banned due to coronavirus

Andy Farrell’s side are due to meet Les Bleus at Stade de France in Paris in a fortnight’s time

Ireland are set to face France in the Stade de France  in two weeks in the Six Nations. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images

Ireland are set to face France in the Stade de France in two weeks in the Six Nations. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images

 

Ireland’s Six Nations clash with France looks to be in doubt after the French government on Saturday announced a temporary ban on public gatherings with more than 5,000 people due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Andy Farrell’s men are due to face France on March 14th at the Stade de France in what could be the potential grand slam clincher for Les Bleus.

But French health minister Olivier Veran said after a special cabinet meeting that the number of confirmed cases had risen to 73 with 16 new cases confirmed. Of those, two have died, 59 are in hospital, and 12 have recovered.

The news comes as the latest potential blow to the Six Nations after Ireland’s match against Italy, due to take place in Dublin on March 7th, was also cancelled.

The last time both the IRFU and the Six Nations were left in a similar quandary was in 2001, when the outbreak of the foot and mouth disease in Britain led to the postponement of Ireland’s games away to Scotland and Wales, and at home to England, and indeed the cancellation of that year’s Cheltenham Festival.

Ireland’s three games were all re-arranged for later in the calendar year at the start of the 2001-02 season, and the likelihood is that a similar solution may be found this time.

Ireland under-20s and the Ireland women’s team are also due to play their French counterparts away from home on the same weekend while England’s meeting with Italy in Rome on Saturday March 14th is also in serious doubt.

The move from France comes after Switzerland on Friday banned events expected to draw more than 1,000 people in a bid to curb the spread of the disease.

Meanwhile in Italy schools and universities will stay closed for a second consecutive week in three northern regions in an effort to contain Europe’s worst outbreak of the disease.

“All public gatherings of more than 5,000 people in a confined space are temporarily banned across France,” Veran told journalists.

“These measures are temporary and we will likely have to revise them. They are restrictive and paradoxically we hope they don’t last long because that means we will have contained the virus’ spread,” he added.

As a result a Paris half-marathon that was due to be held on Sunday with more than 40,000 runners expected has been cancelled, and the capital’s annual farm show will close a day early on Saturday, Veran said.

Meanwhile, an annual international property fair due later this month in Cannes, southern France, has been pushed back to June.

The government has also banned all public gatherings in the Oise district north of Paris and in La Balme-de-Sillingy, a town in the French Alps where cases have been reported.

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