ROME – There are so far no signs of new variants of COVID-19 among passengers arriving in Italy from China in recent days, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said, as she called for a new EU-wide testing regime to guard against the threat of a resurgent coronavirus.
On Wednesday, Italy became the first European country to introduce mandatory virus testing for people arriving from China. Beijing’s decision to lift lockdown policies earlier this month sparked a surge in cases, sparking concern around the world about the emergence of a dangerous new variant.
At a news conference in Rome on Thursday, Meloni said genomic sequencing of positive cases arriving at Milan airports since last week showed only the Omicron variant.
Meloni said authorities in Lombardy had sequenced the virus, “because we need to know if what is happening is something that we have already seen, and therefore covered by vaccines or not… Out of 30 cases that we sequence, the first 15 are all Omicron, which is already present in Italy,” she said. “So for now, that’s pretty reassuring.”
Meloni said the government had asked the EU for a bloc-wide response on mandatory testing, otherwise she feared Italy’s testing policy was ineffective. “On China, we took immediate action,” she said. “But this measure may not be totally effective if it is not taken by the whole of the EU, because we can do it for direct flights but not for those with transit”.
Meloni said the government had written to the EU health commissioner and was “hoping” and “waiting” to hear whether the EU would agree to Italy’s request. EU health officials met on Thursday to review the situation and agreed to continue working towards a bloc-wide response, but refrained from providing details of further action.
Italian Health Minister Orazio Schillaci said the low uptake and effectiveness of vaccines had helped create ideal conditions for a new wave of infections in China. “There are few vaccinations in China, a low level of protection from the vaccines used, and few doses…Omicron until recently circulated little with low hybrid immunity,” he said during a briefing at the Senate in Rome. “Then this fall came the perfect storm.”