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Italians blocked at borders over coronavirus fears

Passengers leaving Italy ran into travel delays on Monday as other countries blocked a plane, a train and a bus over coronavirus fears.

Italians blocked at borders over coronavirus fears
An Alitalia flight was held in Mauritius over fears about the new coronavirus COVID-19. File photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

An Alitalia flight from Rome was being “held” in Mauritius on Monday, the Italian government said, amid health concerns as coronavirus cases in Italy continue to rise.

About 70 people from the affected areas in Italy were being prevented from disembarking, media reports said.

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

Meanwhile passengers who arrived by bus in Lyon in south-east France Monday from Milan in Italy were kept onboard after the driver was hospitalised with symptoms similar to those caused by the new coronavirus, security sources said.

Police erected a security cordon around the bus at Lyon's Perrache station and ordered the passengers to remain onboard, a spokeswoman for the Lyon area's public security department said.

France has since advised residents returning from northern Italy to avoid “all non-essential outings” and keep their children home from school.

Late on Sunday, Austrian authorities stopped a train on its way from Venice to Munich because of two suspected cases of coronavirus. 

After medics were summoned to the train held on the Italian side of the border, both passengers tested negative and the train was allowed to continue.

MAP: Which parts of Italy are most affected by coronavirus outbreak?

Alitalia said the flight to Mauritius had departed from Rome on Sunday. The Italian foreign ministry said it was in contact with Alitalia and with the Italian embassy in South Africa in order to provide assistance to Italians on board.

Mauritian authorities had told passengers from the worst-affected regions of Lombardy and Veneto that they either had to go into quarantine in Mauritius or return to Italy without getting off the plane, the Corriere della Sera newspaper said.

Other passengers were allowed to disembark after a medical screening.

Italy reported its fifth death from the virus on Monday, with the country having the most confirmed cases in Europe.

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TRAVEL NEWS

Is the EU likely to reinstate Covid travel restrictions?

A meeting is scheduled for Wednesday in Brussels to discuss the latest Covid situation in China - so could this mark the return of vaccine passports and travel restrictions?

Is the EU likely to reinstate Covid travel restrictions?

Several EU countries including France, Italy and Spain (as well as non-EU countries including the UK and USA) have already imposed travel restrictions on arrivals from China, over fears of new variants of Covid-19.

The countries announced their restrictions – mostly amounting to compulsory tests and masks – on a unilateral basis at the end of last week, but there have been calls for greater co-ordination at an EU level.

There is now a meeting scheduled for Wednesday of the EU Integrated Policy Response Capability to discuss coordinating measures, with an insider telling Politico: “The idea is to harmonise, but without being extremely prescriptive.”

The meeting has been called by Sweden, which now holds the rotating presidency of the EU. 

So what measures are likely?

At present the countries that have announced restrictions have only imposed testing and mask rules – there is no requirement to show proof of vaccination and no travel bans. All measures only apply only to travellers from China.

A meeting of the European Health Safety Committee last Thursday did not produce any concrete measures, with EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides merely urging member states to coordinate quickly. It was after this that some countries announced their own restrictions.

If anything more concrete comes out of Wednesday’s meeting, it is likely to refer to testing or mask rules only and like the previous EU Covid travel policies, will be advisory for countries to follow.

Because borders are a national competence, countries can impose their own measures without having to consult the EU.

Despite the introduction of the EU digital vaccine passport, countries never managed to entirely co-ordinate their travel rules during 2020 and 2021.

In most EU countries the health pass or vaccine pass apps remain active, and could be used again if necessary. 

Will there be travel bans?

At this stage more draconian restrictions – such as the ‘red lists’ or ‘essential travel only’ rules of 2021 seem unlikely.

Most EU countries have a high level of vaccine cover, so would probably only resort to travel restrictions if new variants – against which current Covid vaccines are not effective – emergence in China (or any other country).  

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