Updated March 9
Air Malta has stopped flights to and from an airport in the north of Italy as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus, following a lockdown announced by the Italian government.
The airline said in a statement it had decided to halt its daily flight to Linate airport in Milan with immediate effect and "until further notice".
It said it had taken the decision following consultation with the prime minister, the "responsible minister and government agencies".
“The safety of our passengers, crew and staff, and the concerns raised
by the people of Malta is our first priority”, said the airline in a statement.
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.
Doctors welcomed the decision but said more needed to be done to ensure public safety.
The Italian government has declared the Lombardy region and 14 provinces in northern Italy a quarantine zone, where people are forbidden to travel unless they receive special permission to do so.
Sources said the government will this week be reaching out to low-cost carrier Ryanair, to stop flights to the north of Italy too, amid growing pressure to take drastic action.
The World Health Organisation has not yet called for flight restrictions or travel bans concerning northern Italy.
Malta on Saturday registered its first three cases of the virus - a 12-year-old girl and her parents who had been in Italy.
The three cases in Malta are believed to be the result of a family who travelled to northern Italy via Rome, despite the advice not to do so.
'Considerable number' of flights cancelled in March and April
Meanwhile, a “considerable number” of flights to and from Malta have been cancelled for March and April, including from the region sealed off in Italy after the coronavirus outbreak.
Asked about the impact of the quarantine, a spokeswoman for Malta International Airport said it had “received a considerable number of flight cancellations for March, with a longer list of cancellations having been received for April”.
Some of the cancellations are flights coming from northern Italy.
“Although we have received no further cancellations following the quarantine ban announced in Italy, we are monitoring the situation closely,” she said.
MIA did not give the number of flight cancellations.
There are 24 inbound flights every week from northern Italy.
Doctors welcome decision
The Medical Association of Malta welcomed the decision to cancel Linate airport flights, saying Air Malta had acted responsibly.
It also said all other flights between Malta and the locked-down areas of Italy should be stopped immediately and passengers who arrived from those areas in the past 14 days be required to undergo mandatory quarantine.
COVID-19 symptoms may take up to 14 day to appear in patients.
The MAM also called on authorities to require all passengers flying from Italy to fill in a mandatory declaration form about whether they had been in the lock-down zone in the past 14 days.
"The situation is not business as usual and it is paramount that decision-taking at the highest level gives priority to the health of the population and this should take precedence over business interests," doctors said.
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