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HEALTH

UPDATE: Italy suspends air travel with UK over new coronavirus strain

Italy has joined Belgium and the Netherlands in stopping flights from the UK, as the British government warned that a potent new strain of the virus was "out of control".

UPDATE: Italy suspends air travel with UK over new coronavirus strain
Photo: AFP

Air travel between the two countries has been suspended, Italy's health minister said on Sunday.

Health Minister Roberto Speranza stated on Sunday afternoon that he had signed an ordinance “which blocks flights from Great Britain and prohibits entry into Italy of people who have stayed there during the last 14 days”.

EXPLAINED: What you need to know about Italy’s UK coronavirus travel ban

The travel ban applies from December 20th until January 6th, according to an update on the Italian government's travel advice website.

Anyone already in Italy who recently travelled from Britain “is required to undergo an antigen or molecular swab test by contacting the health authorities,” Speranza added.

 
The flight ban is a “precautionary measure” advised by Italy's scientific experts while they try to “understand the extent of the problem,” Speranza said.
 
“Having found a variant of the virus, we're facing a new problem. We've chosen to block flights until we understand it better,” he said in an interview on Italian TV channel Rai 3.
“The UK has raised the alarm about a new form of Covid resulting from a mutation in the virus,” Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio wrote earlier on Sunday in a Facebook post.

“As a government we have a duty to protect Italians. For this reason, after having notified the English government, along with the Ministry of Health we are about to sign the order to suspend flights with Great Britain.”

 
Airport authorities in Rome confirmed that flights to and from the UK were being cancelled, after reports that passengers were prevented from boarding UK-bound flights from Rome's Fumicino airport.
 
“Flights to and from the UK and Northern Ireland have been cancelled, due to the Health Ministry ordinance valid until January 6th”, Rome airport authorities announced on Sunday.

 
The 110 passengers who landed at Fiumicino in the afternoon on a flight from London Heathrow – the last one before the travel ban – were being tested at the airport according to Italian media.
 
On Sunday, one person tested positive in Rome for the new strain after recently arriving from the UK.
 
A patient in Rome's Celio military hospital had been found to have the new more infectious virus mutation, a health ministry statement said. The patient was in isolation along with family members.
 
The Netherlands on Sunday banned air travel to and from the UK until at least January 1st after Dutch authorities confirmed that they had isolated at least one case of the same variant of the virus in the country.

Belgium also announced a ban on flights for 24 hours, which looks set to be extended.

READ ALSO: Germany to stop all flights in and out of UK starting midnight Sunday

Several other EU countries including Sweden, France and Germany announced travel bans later on Sunday.

France announced a ban on travel from the UK, including by road and rail, for at least the next 48 hours.

 

The new variant of the virus is believed to have first appeared in the London and Kent areas in September, and is reported to be up to 70 percent more contagious than other strains.

The World Health Organization said that nine cases have been detected in Denmark and one each in the Netherlands and Australia.

A new strain has also been identified in South Africa.

The variant was cited by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson as the reason behind last-minute changes to health restrictions in London and South East England, announced on Saturday, which have seen thousands of people unable to travel as planned over Christmas.

The new coronavirus variant is spreading more rapidly than the original version, but it is not believed to be more deadly, the BBC reports.

The same mutation of the Covid-19 virus has also been detected in the Netherlands, Denmark and Australia, the WHO told the BBC.

There is no evidence to suggest the new variant reacts differently to vaccines.

London and many parts of south-east England have been placed under further restrictions in a bid to curb the spread of the virus.

All travellers arriving in Italy had already been subject to mandatory quarantine from December 21st.

Travellers from the UK also already faced the possibility of a ban on non-essential travel from January 1st, when the UK will be outside the EU and therefore covered by the closure of the Bloc's external borders, which has been in place since March.

 

Member comments

  1. The BBC reports state only “from UK to Italy”, and the local.it reports “to and from”. Is there somewhere more clarity can be sought please? I have an outbound flight to UK that still exists…? Thanks

  2. The BBC reports state only “from UK to Italy”, and the local.it reports “to and from”. Is there somewhere more clarity can be sought please? I have an outbound flight to UK that still exists…? Thanks

  3. Sure, thanks. The article above should perhaps be tweaked to state “from” rather than “to and from” till there is more clarity? Best, MJ

  4. Ministry of Health decree states *from* UK to Italy:

    “ATTENTION – UNITED KINGDOM: the Minister of Health, by order of 20 December 2020, has ordered the suspension of air traffic from the United Kingdom. A ban on entry into Italy was also ordered for anyone who has stayed / transited from the United Kingdom in the previous 14 days. Those who have already entered Italy are required to immediately contact the ASL of reference to undergo the test for the detection of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (molecular or antigenic, carried out by means of a swab). The Ordinance is effective from the date of adoption (December 20) to January 6, 2021.
    For countries from / for which Italy does not place restrictions, it is recommended to always consult the Country Sheet on ViaggiareSicuri: local authorities may still maintain entry restrictions for travelers (including from Italy).
    A questionnaire is also available, based on the legislation in force in Italy. The questionnaire is informative, has no legal value and the result obtained does not guarantee entry to Italy or the country of destination”

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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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