Nearly half of the passengers on two separate flights this week from China to Milan tested positive for COVID, and now health officials in Italy have announced that they will test all travelers coming from the eastern Asia country.
The two flights of sick passengers arrived at Malpensa Airport from China on Monday, Bloomberg reported.
On the first flight, 35 out of 92 passengers tested positive for the virus, while on the second flight, 62 passengers out of 120 were infected, according to Lombardy region’s health chief Guido Bertolaso.
The passengers who tested positive have been isolated, and officials have ramped up their contact tracing efforts.
Italy’s Health Minister Orazio Schillaci on Wednesday announced that tests would be required “for all passengers from China and in transit through Italy.”
Officials say the measure will be critical to prevent the spread of new variants of the virus.
“The measure is essential to ensure the surveillance and identification of any variants of the virus in order to protect the Italian population,” Schillaci said, adding that further details to the plan will be provided later.
Schillaci’s announcement follows the reversal of China’s strict “zero-COVID” policies earlier this month. The sudden change has spurred China’s largest outbreak of COVID infections since the start of the pandemic and left hospitals swamped, turning away ambulances and unable to care for some critical patients.
Some 37 million people may have contracted COVID-19 in China on Dec. 20 alone, and as many as 248 million people — nearly 18% of China’s population — came down with the virus in the first 20 days of December.
US officials are considering taking additional measures for travelers coming from China, given the lack of virus-related data from the Chinese government.
“There are mounting concerns in the international community on the ongoing COVID-19 surges in China and the lack of transparent data, including viral genomic sequence data, being reported from the PRC,” officials, who requested anonymity, said in a written statement Tuesday.
“Without this data, it is becoming increasingly difficult for public health officials to ensure that they will be able to identify any potential new variants and take prompt measures to reduce the spread,” the officials said, as first reported by Bloomberg.
“The U.S. is following the science and advice of public health experts, consulting with partners, and considering taking similar steps we can take to protect the American people.”
The officials pointed to recent measures implemented by other countries, like Japan, India and Malaysia, for travelers coming in from China.
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