US issues Italy travel warning citing local virus ‘spread’

The United States on Friday issued a Level 3 travel warning for Italy, advising against all non-essential travel to the country due to "widespread community transmission" of Coronavirus.

US issues Italy travel warning citing local virus 'spread'
Photographers take pictures of a tourist wearing a protective face mask in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in the centre of Milan, on February 28. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “recommends that travellers avoid all non-essential travel to Italy. There is limited access to adequate medical care in affected areas,” the agency said in a statement.
At the same time, the US State Department raised its travel advice a notch for Italy from “exercise increased caution” to “reconsider travel”, one step below the highest warning level, “do not travel”. 
“Many cases of COVID-19 have been associated with travel to or from mainland China or close contact with a travel-related case, but sustained community spread has been reported in Italy,” the state department wrote. 
At the time of writing, Italy has reported 888 coronavirus cases and 21 deaths  — the most in Europe from the epidemic that originated in China, which is still by far the most affected country.
More than 5.6 million Americans visited Italy in 2018, the second highest of all nationalities after Germans, according to Italian statistics.
Several airlines including British Airways and Easyjet have cut the number of flights to and from Italian airports in the coming weeks due to “reduced demand”.

Since Saturday, 10 towns have been under lockdown in Lombardy and one in Veneto – a drastic measure taken to halt the spread of the disease.

However outside of this small area, there are no travel restrictions in place in Italy.

Italian government ministers have stressed that Italy remains safe to visit, as most of the country remains unaffected by the virus.

The number of cases of infection reported has risen steadily each day, though Italian researchers said on Friday that did not mean the virus was spreading.
Most cases are believed to be people who had caught it previously, but had not been tested until now.
According to the World Health Organisation 80 percent of those who are infected with the virus only suffer mild symptoms such as a headache or soar throat

Around five percent end up in a critical condition.

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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).