DUBLIN: Rugby’s Six Nations championship has been struck by the international spread of the coronavirus outbreak with the postponement of Ireland’s men’s and women’s games against Italy in Dublin on March 7 and 8.

Irish Health Minister Simon Harris had given notice on Tuesday of the government’s containment strategy out of concern that 11 towns and cities in northern Italy are in effective isolation after 12 deaths among more than 400 reported cases.

Also in serious doubt now are England’s rugby matches in Italy on the weekend of March 13-15.

Ireland’s men were scheduled to face Italy in the Six Nations at the Aviva Stadium on March 7 before the women’s game the following day at Energia Park. The under-20s game between the countries on March 6 has also been postponed.

A Six Nations statement said organisers were “fully supportive” of the postponement and that all other matches are currently scheduled to go ahead as normal, but added: “We will continue to monitor the situation very closely with all unions and the respective government authorities and health organisations.”

Tournament organisers will hold discussions with unions of all six teams about rescheduling options.

An IRFU statement said: “At the outset we made it clear that the IRFU was supportive of the government’s need to protect public health in relation to the coronavirus.

“We were then advised, formally, that the National Public Health Emergency team has determined that the series of matches should not proceed, in the interests of Public Health. The IRFU is happy to comply with this instruction.

“Ticket holders are asked to retain their tickets for now. The IRFU will be providing ticket holders with tickets for the rescheduled games or a refund, if they wish to receive one. Information on both these options will be released as soon as possible.”

Ireland’s chief medical officer said on Wednesday the decision to call for the postponement of the match in Dublin was “not made lightly”.

Ireland’s Grand Slam hopes were ended on Sunday by EnglandĀ and they are yet to face not only Italy but also unbeaten France.

England’s football team are due to play Italy in a pre-Euro 2020 friendly at Wembley on March 27.