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Italy suspends all China flights as coronavirus cases confirmed in Rome

The Italian government announced it was suspending all flights between Italy and China and declared a state of emergency in the country after doctors confirmed two Chinese tourists in Rome had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Italy suspends all China flights as coronavirus cases confirmed in Rome
Chinese passengers at Rome's Fiumicino airport. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

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.

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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

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COVID-19 RULES

Is Italy’s government planning to scrap all Covid measures?

The new Italian government has announced the end of some remaining Covid health measures. Here's a look at what will - and won't - change.

Is Italy’s government planning to scrap all Covid measures?

Few Covid-related restrictions remain in Italy today, six months after the nationwide ‘state of emergency’ ended.

The previous government had kept only a handful of precautionary measures in place – which the new government, led by Giorgia Meloni, must now decide whether or not to keep.

The cabinet is holding a meeting on Monday and will issue a decree this week detailing any changes to the health measures.

Many expect the government to scrap all measures entirely by the end of the year, after Meloni and her party criticised the way Mario Draghi’s administration handled the pandemic throughout its tenure. 

Meloni clearly stated in her first address to parliament last Tuesday that “we will not replicate the model of the previous government” when it comes to managing Covid.

READ ALSO: Five key points from Meloni’s first speech as new Italian PM

While she acknowledged that Italy could be hit by another Covid wave, or another pandemic, she did not say how her government would deal with it.

Meanwhile, new health minister Orazio Schillaci issued a statement on Friday confirming the end of several existing measures, saying he “considers it appropriate to initiate a progressive return to normality in activities and behaviour”.

Workplace ban for unvaccinated medical staff

Schillaci confirmed that the ministry will allow doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals to return to work after being suspended because they refuse to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

Those who refuse vaccination will be “reintegrated” into the workforce before the rule expires at the end of this year, as part of what the minister called a “gradual return to normality”.

They will be allowed to return “in light of the worrying shortage of medical and health personnel” and “considering the trend of Covid infections”, the statement said.

Fines issued to healthcare staff aged over 50 who refused vaccination would also be cancelled, it added.

There were some 1,579 doctors and dentists refusing vaccination at the end of October, representing 0.3 percent of all those registered with Italy’s National Federation of the Orders of Physicians, Surgeons and Dentists (Fnomceo) 

Daily Covid data reports

Schillaci also confirmed in the statement that the health ministry will no longer release daily updates on Covid-19 contagion rates, hospital cases and deaths, saying this would be replaced by a weekly update.

It said it would however make the data available at any time to relevant authorities.

Mask requirement in hospitals to stay?

The requirement to wear face masks in hospitals, care homes and other healthcare facilities expires on Monday, October 31st.

At a meeting on the same day the government is expected to decide whether to extend the measure.

READ ALSO: What can we expect from Italy’s new government?

While the government had looked at scrapping the requirement, it reportedly changed stance at the last minute on Monday after facing heavy criticism from health experts.

Media reports published while the meeting was in progress on Monday said government sources had indicated the measure would in fact be extended.

Confirmation is expected to come later on Monday.

Italy’s face mask rules in care homes and healthcare facilities are up for renewal. Photo by Thierry ZOCCOLAN / AFP

‘Green pass’ health certificate

There is no indication that the new government plans to bring back any requirements to show a ‘green pass’: the digital certificate proving vaccination against or recent recovery from Covid, or a negative test result.

The pass is currently only required for entry to healthcare facilities and care homes, and this is expected to remain the case.

‘Dismantling the measures’

Some of the confirmed changes were strongly criticised by Italy’s most prominent healthcare experts.

Head of the Gimbe association for evidence-based medicine, Nino Cartabellotta, said the focus on cancelling fines for unvaccinated healthcare workers was “irrelevant from a health point of view .. but unscientific and highly diseducative”.

He told news agency Ansa it was “absolutely legitimate” for a new government to discontinue the previous administration’s measures, but that this “must also be used to improve everything that the previous government was unable to do”.

The government should prioritise “more analytical collection of data on hospitalised patients, investments in ventilation systems for enclosed rooms … accelerating coverage with vaccine boosters,” he said.

However, the plan at the moment appeared to be “a mere dismantling of the measures in place,” he said, “in the illusory attempt to consign the pandemic to oblivion, ignoring the recommendations of the international public health authorities”.

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