By Emilio Parodi
MILAN (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.
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.
(Reporting by Emilio Parodi, editing by Gavin Jones and David Gregorio)