It’s a lockdown in a European country of a type not seen since times of war. The Italian government has banned all large public gatherings and people can’t travel inside the country without an exceptional reason and a permit.
It’s all happening while the total number of dead there jumped to more than 600 today.
Here, the Foreign Office has told people not to travel to Italy and anyone who returns from there should self-isolate for 2 weeks.
Passengers stranded as flights between UK and Italy are cancelled
British Airways suspended all flights to and from Italy on Tuesday, while Ryanair said no flights will serve the country from Saturday.
EasyJet has cancelled dozens of its Italian flights.
British Airways refused refund requests to passengers booked on flights to Italian airports outside the north of the country until the Foreign and Commonwealth Office updated its travel advice on Monday night.
That means some passengers may have reluctantly travelled to Italy to avoid losing money and now face a struggle to get home.
One British passenger told the PA news agency she felt “dumped” by the airline after her flight from Rome to London was cancelled.
The woman, who asked not to be named, said she was seeking an “acknowledgement that they just stranded loads of passengers when they said they would get us home”.
The passenger went on: “Their website was down, their call centres are overloaded and we got an email after midnight saying our flight was cancelled. It’s putting more passengers in danger.”
She said she “had to fight” to secure a place on a Vueling flight.
Ryanair said passengers who need to fly home can switch to one of its flights which are operating up to and including Friday.
An airline spokesman said: “The situation is changing on a daily basis, and all passengers on flights affected by travel bans or cancellations are receiving emails and are being offered flight transfers, full refunds or travel credits.
“Ryanair apologises sincerely to all customers for these schedule disruptions, which are caused by national government restrictions and the latest decision of the Italian government to lock down the entire country to combat the Covid-19 virus.”
Ryanair reduced its passenger target for the 12 months to the end of March by three million to 154 million, but it does not expect this to have a “material impact” on profits.
ACI Europe, which represents European airports, said its “initial assessment” was that passenger numbers between January and March will drop 14% due to the coronavirus.
Director general Olivier Jankovec said: “The Covid-19 epidemic is turning into a shock of unprecedented proportions for our industry.”
Low cost carrier Norwegian has cancelled around 3,000 flights between mid-March and mid-June across all its routes, due to a drop in demand because of the coronavirus.
This represents approximately 15% of its capacity for this period.
The company has also put several other measures in place, including temporary layoffs of a “significant share of its workforce”.
Chief executive Jacob Schram said: “We encourage the authorities to immediately implement measures to imminently reduce the financial burden on the airlines in order to protect crucial infrastructure and jobs.”
Virgin Atlantic has admitted flying planes that are “almost empty” in order to keep take-off and landing slots despite demand plummeting due to the coronavirus.
Chief executive Shai Weiss said the airline is being “forced” to continue with flights because rules about slot allocation have not been relaxed.
Slots at capacity-constrained airports such as Heathrow can be worth millions of pounds.
The European Union operates a so-called “use it or lose it” rule which means airlines must use 80% of their slots or risk them being taken away in the following year.
The regulation has been removed for routes serving mainland China and Hong Kong due to the outbreak of Covid-19, but remains for other destinations.
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