Italy declares six-month state of emergency after two confirmed cases of coronavirus
Natalie Carney in Rome

The Italian government has declared a six-month state of emergency after doctors confirmed two Chinese tourists had tested positive for coronavirus in the capital Rome.

This move will allow local governments and municipalities to mobilize the resources needed more quickly and implement the measures required to contain the spread.

All flights to and from China have also been suspended until further notice at the request of health authorities.

Stressing there was "no need for alarm or panic," Italy's prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, expressed confidence in the new measures, adding that "we think we are the first EU country to take this precautionary measure."

Passengers from China will still be able to arrive in Italy on non-direct flights, transiting through other destinations.

The tourists – a husband, 67, and wife, 66 – are originally from Hubei, the Chinese province where the coronavirus epidemic originated. They entered the country through Milan's Malpensa airport on 23 January.

According to Italian media, they then rented a private car and made their way down to Rome, stopping briefly in the city of Parma. The couple are now in isolation in the capital's Spallanzani infectious diseases institute.

Speaking to a local radio station, Giuseppe Ippolito, the institute's scientific director said: "We expected these cases, we were prepared. We identified them early and isolated them. The patients are in good condition.”

The hotel room that the couple were staying in has reportedly been sealed off, and other Chinese tourists who had arrived with them as part of a tour group to Milan are being tested for the virus.


Gateway to Europe

Prior to the cancellation of passenger flights coming from China, the head of airport management in Rome, Ivan Bassato, told CGTN that precautionary measures were in place.

"We act as the entry gate to Italy and one of the most important gates to Europe. So the ministry of public health ordered that passengers on board the planes coming from China had to be individually checked in relation to their body temperature before passengers disembarked. We also have a dedicated facility, separated from the terminal area, where we can isolate the passengers of a single flight and perform more in-depth medical checks."

The infected couple had entered the country prior to the establishment of the airport screening procedures.

As it could take up to two weeks before the symptoms of the coronavirus appear, Giuseppe Ruocco, the chief medical officer at the Italian Ministry of Health, said the ministry has set up a hotline to help those in the country exhibiting flu-like symptoms.

"We have a national phone number that is in our ministry that can help them channel their hospitalization without infecting other people.”

Italy also has a network of hospitals for infectious diseases in every region that people who have concerns can visit.

Meanwhile, more than 6,000 cruise ship passengers were forced to stay on board at the port of Civitavecchia, north of Rome, after two suspected cases were detected.

Tests later came back negative and passengers were finally allowed to disembark the next morning.


Read more: Two cases of coronavirus confirmed in England