Virus crackdown throws Italy transport into chaos

by Ljubomir MILASIN with Ella IDE in Florence
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A host of air and rail services to Italy's neighbours have been cancelled after the government imposed drastic nationwide quarantine measures to contain the coronavirus

Trains, planes and vehicles leaving Italy faced new restrictions after the Italian government and nearby countries imposed drastic quarantine measures to contain the coronavirus.

Spain and Portugal suspended air traffic from Italy for two weeks while Austria ordered a halt to flights and trains from its neighbour and Slovenia said it would impose controls at its border with the country.

As British Airways cancelled Italian flights on Tuesday, Air France and low-cost carriers Ryanair, Easyjet and Wizz Air said they would scrap flights from Italian airports until early April.

Air Canada took even more drastic measures, suspending flights to Italy until at least May 1.

However, at Rome's main Fiumicino airport there were still services running to destinations in Europe and beyond on Tuesday afternoon, as well domestic flights.

Flights were also still taking off from the smaller Ciampino airport, used mostly by budget airlines.

Tourists welcomed the remaining opportunities to leave.

"We have people saying they will put us on a flight back," Mina, a 58-year-old Indian national, told AFP next to Rome's deserted Colosseum, adding she and her family were "waiting for a call."

The ADR company which runs Rome's airports said all arriving passengers and all those heading for destinations outside the Schengen zone "will undergo health checks" and go through thermal scanners.

Australia on Wednesday said it would bar entry to foreign nationals who had been to the Mediterranean country in the last 14 days -- measures already in place for arrivals from China and South Korea.

- 'You're foreign? Go, go!' -

Mask-wearing police at Rome's main Termini train station were checking passengers' reasons for travel and making sure everybody kept the recommended distance of one metre away from each other.

But the departures board was showing no sign of any cancellations.

Klemen Gartner, a 22-year-old seminarian from Slovenia, said that he was trying to get back home, "somewhere I can understand the language".

He said that when station staff realised he wasn't Italian, he was told: "You're foreign? Go, go!" and waved through.

The rail service for Venice via Florence was only sparsely occupied but running nonetheless, with no checks for passengers disembarking at Florence, an AFP journalist said.

But some rail links with neighbouring countries have taken a hit.

The Thello company has cancelled its night services between Paris and Venice, as well as daytime trains between Milan and Marseille, until early April.

France's national train company SNCF said on Tuesday it was "waiting for advice" about how to proceed regarding services to Italy.

Since late February, French staff on cross-border SNCF trains have been getting off before the Italian border and being replaced by Italian colleagues.

Some train services between Italy and Austria were still running Tuesday but that was expected to change, a spokeswoman for Austrian rail operator OeBB told AFP.

A spokeswoman for Germany's Deutsche Bahn said that the only service it had linking it to Italy, between Munich and Venice, has been suspended.

- Roads more relaxed -

On Italy's road links to other countries seemed more relaxed on Tuesday afternoon.

Cars crossed the border with neighbouring Slovenia in both directions, an AFP journalist reported.

Italians in the area around the city of Trieste often make the short journey into Slovenia to do their shopping and buy cheaper fuel.

But late Tuesday, Slovenia's government announced it would close the border, with controls put in place "as soon as possible", although cargo transport would not be affected.

"It is not a hermetic closure... It is a necessary move if we want to contain the virus," Slovenia's outgoing prime minister Marjan Sarec told reporters.

Also exempted from Austria's travel ban are cargo transporters, people with a doctor's certificate, and returning Austrians who agree to a two-week quarantine, the Austrian government announced.

The wave of cancelled trips is raising fears for Italy's tourism sector, which accounts for 13 percent of the country's gross domestic product.

A host of air and rail services to Italy's neighbours have been cancelled after the government imposed drastic nationwide quarantine measures to contain the coronavirus

Tourists are facing longer stays in Italy than planned

'You're foreign? Go, go!"