The Foreign Office last night hardened travel advice to parts of Italy after 16 million people were quarantined in the country in an effort to contain the spread of coronavirus.
The FCO advised against all but essential travel to a range of areas in northern Italy, including Milan and Venice.
Those travelling from locked-down areas have also been advised to self-isolate if they returned to the UK in the last 14 days – even if they have shown no symptoms.
Italy was reported to have the highest number of confirmed cases of the virus outside China, with the death toll rising by 133 in a day to 366, with the number of infections up to 7,375.
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The Italian government’s strict new quarantine rules ban movement in and out of Lombardy and 14 provinces until at least April 3.
Airlines are reviewing services to the region but concerns have been raised about an apparent lack of screening of passengers returning to UK airports from the affected parts of Italy.
Airlines cancel Italy flights
Carriers had already started cutting flights to the region, with Ryanair cancelling up to a quarter of Italian services for three weeks from March 17.
Alitalia is to suspend flights from Milan Malpensa airport from today.
EasyJet is reviewing its flying programme to Milan Malpensa, Milan Linate, Venice and Verona airports for the period from now until April 3.
A spokesperson said: “In the short-term we will be cancelling a number of flights to and from these destinations on Monday, March 9.
“Customers on flights scheduled to operate to and from these airports will be given the option of a full refund or to change their flight.
“We expect to continue to reduce the number of flights in and out of Milan Malpensa, Milan Linate, Venice and Verona airports in the period up to April 3 and will provide a further update on our schedule in due course.”
Abta’s Italy coronavirus advice
Abta said that customers who are imminently due to travel on package holidays which include the named locations should be offered alternative arrangements by their travel provider.
“If no suitable alternatives are available, package holiday customers should be offered a full refund,” the travel association said.
“Customers who have booked their flights and accommodation directly should speak to their airline and accommodation provider to discuss their options. They should also check their travel insurance to see if this will cover any additional costs.
“Customers currently in the named locations should contact their travel provider to discuss their options and follow the instructions of local authorities and local public health advice.
“Customers with an existing package holiday booked, and those considering making plans, can have confidence that there are protections in place for package holidays should the travel advice to their destination change.”
Abta’s latest advice and Q&A’s for travellers is available at abta.com/coronavirus.
Foreign Office’s Italy advice
The FCO said British travellers “remain able to depart Italy without restriction”.
The updated Foreign Office advice said: “Travellers should check flight details with airlines.”
The FCO added: “Additional restrictions include the closure of museums, cultural institutions and the suspension of all public gatherings, social events including pubs, nightclubs and games halls. Religious ceremonies and funerals are suspended.
“Ski facilities in the affected mountain areas are closed. Restaurants and bars remain open from 06.00 to 18.00.
“Across the whole of Italy, museums and cultural institutions are closed and all sporting fixtures must be played behind closed doors.
“Childcare facilities, schools and universities are closed until 15 March.
“Public and social gatherings should be avoided with cinemas, pubs and clubs closed. Restaurants and bars remain open with reduced seating.”
The control and isolation measures imposed by the Italian authorities cover Lombardy region, which includes the cities of Milan, Bergamo, Como and the provinces of Modena, Parma, Piacenza, Reggio Emilia and Rimini (all in Emilia Romagna); Pesaro e Urbino (in Marche); Alessandria, Asti, Novara, Verbano-Cusio-Ossola and Vercelli (all in Piemonte); Padova. Treviso and Venice (in Veneto).
“Residents of other parts of Italy are permitted to leave the isolation areas to return home,” the FCO said.
“Otherwise entry into and exit from these areas is forbidden without official permission on the grounds of strict necessity; the authorities have confirmed to us that this will be granted for reasons such as medical need or work requirements.”
Which? Travel editor Rory Boland said: “Travellers will be increasingly worried by the severe restrictions the Italian government is now planning to introduce across the region, including Milan and Venice.
“The situation is being worsened by a lack of clear information for passengers, who are being left with the option of either taking their flight to a potentially quarantined area or cancelling altogether and losing their money.
“Airlines must do the right thing and allow passengers, who will understandably not want to travel, to cancel for a full refund, or rebook at a later date or on a different flight.”
Etoa urges support for operators
The European Tourism Association (ETOA) said “government intervention is necessary” to help operators survive the “unprecedented” impact coronavirus is having on businesses working in Italy.
The association is calling on public-run museums and attractions to offer refunds or credit notes to operators with parties due to visit, and for an immediate suspension of city access charges for private coaches bringing visitors to destinations.
Etoa pointed out that operators who have pre-paid for tickets at public museums and attractions are suffering “serious financial loss at a time of year when cashflow is perilous”.
It said attractions “must be allowed and encouraged to offer refunds and credit notes”, adding: “continued delay is putting jobs at risk”.
The association also says “there should be an immediate suspension of city access charges for private coaches bringing visitors to European destinations”, noting that “demand has all but vanished”.
It compared public transport, which is says is “higher-risk in terms of public health” with “low-emission private coach capacity” that “is lying idle”. It said business trying to continue operations within government guidance “need all possible support”.
Chief executive Tom Jenkins said: “The tourism industry is one of Europe’s best job generators; quick to add employment to the economy after a crisis. Cultural attractions and their host cities depend on visitor revenues and need to work with their industry partners to plan for recovery.
“Operators are facing unprecedented short-term financial harm: it is essential that we ensure we have the capacity to support recovery when demand returns. Measures introduced to limit coach access are often controversial – in current circumstances they are manifestly self-defeating. Local and national government must act now to suspend them.”
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