Easyjet and British Airways cancel flights to Italy over coronavirus crisis

Airlines Easyjet and British Airways have announced they have cancelled numerous flights to Italy due to the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

Easyjet and British Airways cancel flights to Italy over coronavirus crisis
Photo: AFP

Easyjet announced on Friday it was cancelling flights to northern Italy due to the impact the ongoing coronavirus crisis is having on the airline.

Some other easyJet routes may also be affected.

The announcement comes after a recent surge in the number of coronavirus cases in Italy, particularly in the northern region of Lombardy, whose capital is Milan.

“We have seen a significant softening of demand and load factors into and out of our northern Italian bases,” easyJet said.

“Further we are also seeing some slower demand across our other European markets. As a result, we will be making decisions to cancel some flights, particularly those into and out of Italy, while continuing to monitor the situation and adapting our flying programme to support demand.”

EasyJet runs flights to various airports in northern Italy including Milan, Turin, Verona and Venice.

Easyjet wasn't the only airline to cancel flights to Italy.

British Airways announced on Thursday it would be cancelling some direct flights between London's airports and various places in Italy over the next few weeks due to “reduced demand” following the coronavirus outbreak.

Some 56 roundtrip flights are cancelled from London Heathrow and Gatwick to Italian destinations including Milan, Bologna, Bergamo, Venice and Turin between March 14 and March 28.

A British Airways spokesperson said the company would be contacting affected passengers to “investigate travel options including, where possible, offering alternative flights, full refunds, or moving reservations to another date.”

Wizz Air stated on Thursday that it would be cutting two-thirds of its flights to and from Italian airports for three weeks, between March 11 and April 2, due to lack of demand. 

Flights during that period will be cut from a planned 815 to 313, with routes between Italy and Poland and Romania hit hardest. Wizz Air said in an email statement that all affected passengers would be notified and fully reimbursed.

Brussels Airlines has announced that it has cut the frequency of its flights to some destinations in Italy by 30% because of a drop in bookings.

On Friday Italy's foreign minister pleaded with tourists and business people not to turn their backs on Italy over the crisis.

Hotel bookings have slumped and nearly a dozen cities in the north are in lockdown as the number of infections reached 650 and deaths hit 17 — by far the highest in Europe — according to the latest figures from the civil protection agency.

As alarm grows, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio condemned “false reports circulating abroad” about panic in the country, saying they were doing “more damage” than the virus itself.

“If schools are open, if our children are going to school, tourists and business people can come,” Di Maio said.

“Out of over 7,000 towns in Italy, just over a dozen are affected by this epidemic.”





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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).