Coronavirus: Air Malta suspends all flights to Milan amid Covid-19 concerns

As Lombardy region goes under quarantine lock-down, Air Malta stops flight to Milan airport

Air Malta has stopped its flights to and from Milan’s Linate airport.

The move comes just under 24 hours from Maltese doctors’ warnings to stop flights from northern Italy.

“Whilst calling for calm, the airline states that the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organisation do not suggest restricting flights to and from Milan in their recommendations. However, on consultation with the Prime Minister, the responsible minister and government agencies, the management of Air Malta has resolved to take this decisive action as a measure of reassurance.

“The safety of our passengers, crew and staff, and the concerns raised by the people of Malta is our first priority,” the airline said.

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All passengers affected by the cancellation of flights will be notified. The airline is constantly monitoring the evolving situation and will announce any changes as they arise.

Malta’s first case of coronavirus was discovered on Saturday 7 March, when a 12-year-old girl and her Italian parents, residents in Malta, went into self-quarantine after returning from Trentino in Italy via Rome; public health authorities confirmed the case.

Alitalia will also suspend activity in the Milan area after the arrival of its New York flight on Monday at Malpensa airport at 10:40am.

As for the Linate airport, Alitalia will only operate national flights, while cutting down on its route service. International destinations will only be reached via Rome, where both Alitalia and Air Malta code-share.

Deputy prime minister and health minister Chris Fearne had already called on Prime Minister Robert Abela to temporarily stop flights from northern Italy, as a precaution against the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus.

The call was made in a Cabinet meeting, but Abela disagreed with Fearne, reportedly saying he would assume responsibility for the decision not to stop flights from the north of Italy, where there is the highest concentration of conoravirus cases in the whole of Europe.

Malta’s first case of coronavirus has now developed, with a family who travelled alongside the first Italian family having been placed in self-quarantine. Both families’ children attend different schools in Malta. MaltaToday is informed that the second family has not shown any symptoms, but will self-quarantine until 16 March.

The Medical Association of Malta yesterday reiterated its call for flights from northern Italy to be temporarily halted. “The Italian government has declared the region of Lombardia and 14 provinces in northern Italy as quarantine zone, where people are forbidden to travel unless they receive special permission. This was ordered because the situation in Italy is very grave, with the epidemic spreading like wildfire to thousands, with hundreds of deaths and intensive care admissions,” the MAM said.

At a political activity in Rabat on Sunday, Prime Minister Robert Abela said that it was not yet time for such extreme decisions. He also appealed for associations to be fair in their comments and said that the government would not play with the nation's wellbeing.

The doctors’ association said that Malta needed to adopt a tougher approach to stop the epidemic from spreading. “It is clear that the Italian authorities just like China have failed to stop the epidemic with their soft approach and have now changed to lockdown approach. The three cases in Malta are the result of a family who travelled to northern Italy despite the advice not to do so. While this family was lucky to get a mild illness, not everybody will be so lucky. They have created a grave risk for all the half a million inhabitants of the Maltese islands,” the doctors said.

The medical advice of consultants in the department of medicine at Mater Dei recommends a ban, with trade unions and social partners insisting that flights be stopped.

The MAM warned that if such precautionary decisions are not made, the association was ready to take any measures necessary to protect its members. “MAM appeals to the government to stop with immediate effect all flights from northern Italy and to order mandatory quarantine for flights from other cities from Italy. The soft approach is a proven failure, let us protect our country and not have to go into lockdown after thousands get sick.”