ROME — There is no sign of new COVID-19 variants so far 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 from 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 triggered a surge in cases, spurring concerns around the world that a dangerous new variant could emerge.
At a press conference in Rome on Thursday, Meloni said genomic sequencing of positive cases arriving in Milan’s airports since last week had shown only the Omicron variant.
Meloni said that authorities in Lombardy had been sequencing the virus, “because we need to know if what is arriving is something we have already seen, and so covered by vaccines or not … Of 30 cases we are sequencing, the first 15 are all Omicron, which is already present in Italy,” she said. “So, for right now, it’s quite reassuring.”
Meloni said the government had asked the EU for a bloc-wide response on mandatory testing, otherwise, she feared Italy’s testing policy risked being ineffective. “On China, we have taken immediate action,” she said. “But this measure may not be completely effective unless it is taken by the whole EU, because we can do it for direct flights but not those with a transit.”
Meloni said the government had written to the EU commissioner for health and was “hoping” and “waiting” to hear if the EU would agree to Italy’s request. On Thursday, EU health officials met to review the situation and resolved to continue working toward a bloc-wide response, but stopped short of setting out any details on new action.
Italian Health Minister Orazio Schillaci said the low use and efficacy of vaccines had helped create ideal conditions for a new wave of infections in China. “There are few vaccinations in China, a poor level of protection of the vaccines used, and few doses … Omicron until recently circulated little with low hybrid immunity,” he told a Senate briefing in Rome. “Then this autumn came the perfect storm.”