Italy bans flights from Brazil after new coronavirus variant found in passengers

ROME, Jan. 16 (Xinhua) -- Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza on Saturday signed an order banning direct flights to Italy from Brazil after a new variant of the coronavirus was identified in four passengers arriving from that country.

The ban is effective immediately through Jan. 31, according to the order posted on the website of the Ministry of Health.

"I signed an order blocking flights departing from Brazil, and forbidding entry into Italy to anyone who has traveled through Brazil over the past 14 days," Speranza wrote in a statement.

"It is mandatory for anyone already in Italy who came from Brazil to contact health authorities and to get tested (for the virus)," the minister said. "It is essential for our scientists to be able to conduct an in-depth study of the new variant. Meanwhile, we choose the path of maximum caution."

In related news, Speranza on Saturday also signed an order specifying which of Italy's 20 regions will fall into which color-coded zone, beginning on Sunday.

In a bid to contain the second wave of the pandemic, the government late last year divided the country into three color-coded areas -- yellow, orange, and red -- with varying restrictions according to the level of transmission of the virus.

Lombardy, Sicily and the Autonomous Province of Bolzano will fall into the red or high-risk zone, where the toughest anti-virus rules apply, including the shutdown of most shops and all bars, restaurants, gyms and museums.

Abruzzo, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Lazio, Liguria, Marche, Piedmont, Puglia, Umbria and Valle d'Aosta will join Calabria, Emilia Romagna and Veneto in the orange or medium-risk zone. Restrictions include a ban on travel outside one's municipality, and restaurants can operate so long as they only serve take-away.

Campania, Basilicata, Molise, the Autonomous Province of Trento, Sardinia and Tuscany will be designated yellow, or low-risk, according to the minister's latest order. Yellow zones rules say bars and restaurants can serve take-away until 6 p.m., and shops and museums are open.

The designations are effective through Jan. 31, according the order.

Italy on Saturday reported 16,310 new coronavirus cases, 16,186 recoveries and 475 deaths.

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