Italy to airlift citizens out of coronavirus-hit Chinese city

The Italian government announced it will be sending a plane to evacuate citizens from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the SARS-like coronavirus.

Italy to airlift citizens out of coronavirus-hit Chinese city
Health specialists getting ready to carry out a check for coronavirus on passengers at Rome's Fiumicino airport. Photo: ADR/AFP

The foreign ministry said the aircraft, which will be carrying a medical team, would depart on Thursday “once all the necessary authorisations have been obtained from the Chinese authorities”.

READ ALSO: How concerned should you be about the coronavirus in Italy?

It did not say how many Italians would be airlifted out, or whether they would be placed in quarantine, though those transported home would have to follow “a protocol laid out by the health ministry”.

The flight was arranged by the Italian foreign ministry's crisis unit in liaison with the defence ministry, the health ministry, and Rome's Spallanzani Hospital, which specialises in infectious diseases.

Chinese airline staff at Rome's Fiumicino airport. Photo: AFP

Between 60 and 70 Italians are currently in Wuhan according to media, though the Corriere della Sera and Repubblica dailies said that not all of them wanted to be evacuated.

Citizens of several other countries have already been evacuated from Wuhan.

The Italian foreign ministry advises against all travel to Hubei province due to the ongoing coronavirus epidemic, which has killed 132 people and infected around 6,000.

There have been no confirmed cases of the virus in Italy at the time of writing.

There have been a number of suspected cases, including in BariParma, Lucca and Naples but all tests have so far come back negative.

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Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”