Health Minister Roberto Speranza has issued a “decree closing air traffic to and from China,” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told a news conference late on Thursday, without giving a list of the affected airlines.
“We think we are the first EU country to take this precautionary measure,” Conte added after reporting that the two Chinese visitors to the capital had the virus.
The tourists, reportedly husband and wife, were being held in isolation in the Spallanzani infectious diseases institute in Rome.
“I'm confident that the situaion will remain contained,” Conte said.
Chinese airport staff at Rome's Fiumicino airport. Photo: AFP
Police sealed off the room they had been staying at a hotel in the centre of the capital, and other Chinese tourists who had arrived in Italy as part of the same tour group were being tested for the virus, Italian media said.
Spallanzani director Giuseppe Ippolito said authorities were tracing the couple's movements. They are believed to have arrived in Italy in the northern city of Milan over a week ago.
The news came as the UN health agency WHO declared an international emergency over the coronavirus from China, which reported its biggest single-day jump in deaths.
But the World Health Organization said there was no reason to restrict flights and trade partly because it might disrupt needed aid.
Over 6,000 tourists spent Thursday stranded on a cruise ship at Civitavecchio, a port north-west of Rome, after authorities said two Chinese passengers were feared to have the coronavirus.
Those two supsected cases tested negative, and passengers were allowed to disembark on Thursday night.
The Costa Smerelda ship confined passengers on board on Thursday amid coronavirus fears. Photo: AFP