The arrival of a significant number of Italian fans who had booked to travel to Ireland for the Six Nations rugby match this weekend will increase the risk of person-to-person spread of the coronavirus, a leading infectious disease consultant has warned.
Dr Jack Lambert, a consultant at the Mater Hospital, said many Italian supporters will be travelling here on a tourist break despite the Ireland v Italy clash at the Aviva Stadium 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 in the country.
"There could be a potential risk of person-to-person spread if they come and congregate and are infected with the virus," Dr Lambert 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."
The expert group in the Department of Health earlier this week decided to advise people in Ireland against non-essential travel to four regions of northern Italy: Lombardy, Veneto, Emilia-Romagna and Piedmont.
However, it remains advice and there is no travel ban. Flights to Ireland are also continuing.
Dr Lambert said that cancelling the rugby game alone did not eliminate the risk.
"It may be a first step but not a final step," he said.
Hotels in Dublin say that they are expecting most of the Italian guests who booked in for the cancelled match to arrive.
They have been advised by the Hotels Federation to carry out their own risk assessment and follow the chief medical officer's and HSE's advice.
Buswells Hotel general manager Paul Gallagher said that he was not worried about Italian guests spreading the virus and that it would be unethical to deny them the trip they've 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 Herald.
"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 take every precaution to ensure the space that that person would have been in, and that would go as far as removing all soft furnishing including carpets, curtains, beds, towels, everything."
However, disruptions to plans and potential travel bans are causing a concern.
A spokesperson for the Hotels Federation said: "The wellbeing 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."
Aer Lingus and Ryanair are under pressure from travel agents to stop charging "change fees" to people who want to postpone bookings.
The plea from the Irish Travel Agents Association (ITAA) comes as the industry suffers a "significant drop" in business and the public 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 chief executive Pat Dawson said most suppliers had responded positively, "but the two main players out of Ireland have not yet".