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HEALTH

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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TRAVEL NEWS

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.”

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