By Emilio Parodi
MILAN, Dec 28 (Reuters) – Italy has ordered COVID-19 antigen swabs and virus sequencing for all travellers coming from China, where cases are surging, the health minister said on Wednesday.
Italy, which was the first nation in Europe to be hit hard by the virus in February 2020 after it emerged in China, is now the first to impose mandatory tests on people arriving from the Asian country grappling with a new wave.
Milan’s main airport, Malpensa, had already started testing passengers arriving from Beijing and Shanghai on Dec. 26, and the results showed almost one in two passengers was infected.
“The measure is essential to ensure surveillance and detection of possible variants of the virus in order to protect the Italian population”, minister Orazio Schillaci said, announcing mandatory testing for all passengers. ANSA reports that Schillaci has also been in contact for days with the competent authorities of other EU states to define shared strategies.
The minister did not say what measures would be imposed on travellers testing positive, but the local health chiefs in the Lombardy region around Milan and the Lazio region around Rome said they would have to quarantine in buildings set aside by the local health authorities.
Chinese hospitals and funeral homes were under intense pressure on Wednesday as its COVID-19 wave drained resources, while the scale of the outbreak and doubts over official data prompted some countries to consider new travel rules on Chinese visitors.
Japan has said that from Dec. 31 it will require a negative COVID-19 test upon arrival for travellers from mainland China, while Taiwan will test arrivals from China from Jan. 1.
On the first flight to Malpensa that tested passengers from China out of 62 passengers 35 were Covid positive, Lombardy’s health chief Guido Bertolaso said on Wednesday, while on the second 62 were positive out of 120.
He added that virus sequencing procedures had been activated to analyse variants, and the results are expected on Thursday.
Meanwhile, ANSA reported that the Spallanzani, Italy’s premier infectious disease hospital, stressed that testing for those arriving from China must be boosted. It called for “strengthening surveillance by means of antigenic tests for those from China, and molecular characterisation with sequence analysis in the positive cases. “It would be better if the coordination of surveillance should take place at European level”, the institute said. “Such an intervention would serve to monitor the emergence and intercept early on the arrival of new variants, either as new evolutions of Omicron or as new variants other than Omicron, and to prepare possible selective quarantine measures’.
Authorities at Malpensa said that almost one in two travellers from China were testing positive for the coronavirus.
Reuters / ANSA