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'Italians will still come here and will increase risk of coronavirus spreading,' warns consultant

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Sports fans are wearing masks at matches. Photo: REUTERS/Sergio Perez

Sports fans are wearing masks at matches. Photo: REUTERS/Sergio Perez

REUTERS

Sports fans are wearing masks at matches. Photo: REUTERS/Sergio Perez

Large numbers of Italian rugby fans arriving here will increase the risk of the coronavirus spreading, a leading infectious disease consultant warned.

Dr Jack Lambert, a consultant in the Mater Hospital, said many Italians will continue to come on a tourist break here this weekend, despite the Six Nations rugby match being postponed due to the spread of the virus.

Northern Italy is particularly badly hit by the virus, which has infected more than 3,000 and killed 107 people.

"There could be a potential risk of person-to-person spread if they come and congregate and are infected with the virus," he said.

"I think maybe the cancellation of the rugby game was a good first step given the way the coronavirus has increased in numbers in Italy. I think the Government has to think about what the next step is and whether they should think about restricting travel from high-risk coronavirus regions.

"It may be a first step but not a final step."

Six Nations matches usually attract several thousand travelling supporters.

Hotels in Dublin said they are expecting most of the Italian guests who booked in for the cancelled match to arrive, despite the warnings.

They have been advised by the Hotels Federation to carry out their own risk assessment and follow the advice of the chief medical officer and the HSE.

General manager of Buswells Hotel, Paul Gallagher, said he is not worried about Italian guests spreading the virus and that it would be unethical to deny them the trip they have paid for.

"I think everybody in the world now knows the symptoms and to self-isolate, so we're not worried at all about any of our guests from Italy, we welcome them," he told the Irish Independent.

"There's no question of not allowing them to come over. I think it would be wholly unusual for our country to cut ourselves off from visitors.

"In this hotel if we had a case we would ensure the space was safe, so far as removing all soft furnishing including carpets, curtains, beds, towels, everything."

Disruptions to plans and potential travel bans are causing a concern to the tourism industry, however. A spokesperson for the Hotels Federation said: "The well-being of our guests, staff and the general public is paramount but it is a worrying time as any event that disrupts personal or business travel plans could have consequences for Ireland's tourism industry."

Meanwhile, Aer Lingus and Ryanair are under pressure from travel agents to stop charging "change fees" to people who want to postpone bookings because of the coronavirus outbreak. The plea from the Irish Travel Agents Association (ITAA) comes as the industry suffers a "significant drop" in business travellers who face substantial losses if they cancel a booking.

Many other airlines, including British Airways, Flybe.com and American Airlines have already announced such waivers. However, ITAA CEO Pat Dawson told the Irish Independent most suppliers had responded positively, "but the two main players out of Ireland have not yet".

An Aer Lingus spokesperson said the company "continues to keep what is a dynamic situation under constant review".

Irish Independent