Coronavirus: Italy Closes Schools, Airlines Offer Travel Waivers

Government officials in Italy are planning to temporarily close the country’s schools and universities as it becomes the worst-hit nation outside of Asia. 

According to local media reports cited by CNBC, the closure will be effect from Thursday, March 6, through the middle of the month. As of Wednesday morning, there are 2,502 cases of the virus in Italy, and 79 deaths, making it overtake Iran as the worst-affected country outside of Asia. Eleven towns in the Lombardy and Veneto regions have been placed under quarantine, while in a number of locations elsewhere “yellow zones” have been established, where schools, sports venues and many bars and restaurants are closed. 

The outbreak has caused a number of airlines to scale back flights and issue change waivers. 

American Airlines has suspended operations to and from Milan. The airline had served the city, which is part of the Lombardy region, from New York – JFK and Miami in the United States, with one flight from each of those airports daily. 

American also reports that it will now waive all change fees up to 14 days prior to travel for customers who purchase travel between March 1 and March 16. The offer is available on any of the airline’s published fares. Additionally, customers scheduled to fly through Italy through April 24 can rebook through June 30 between the same city pair in the same cabin (or pay the difference). American will also waive change or cancellation fees when customers delay their trip beyond June 30, up to 331 days after their original ticket date, or wish to change their origin or destination cities, but a difference in fare may apply. Travel must be completed within one year of the original ticket date. 

United Airlines is allowing all customers who book a flight through March 31 to change it for free over the next 12 months. Additionally, customers scheduled to fly through Italy through June 30 can rebook in the originally ticketed cabin and between the original city pair. For rescheduled travel departing after June 30, or for a change in departure or destination city, the change fee will be waived, but a difference in fare may apply. Rescheduled travel must be completed within one year from the date when the ticket was issued.

Delta is allowing all customers who book an international ticket through March 31, 2020, to rebook through February 28, 2021, with the new ticket to be issued on or before that date. Additionally, customers scheduled to fly through Italy through April 30, 2002, can rebook through May 31.

Lufthansa is reducing frequencies on varies routes to Italy in March, including to Milan, Venice, Rome, Turin, Verona, Bologna, Ancona and Pisa. SWISS will probably reduce flight frequencies to and from Florence, Milan, Rome and Venice until the end of April, the airline group said. Austrian Airlines is reducing its flight program to Italy in March and April by 40 percent, including reductions of flight frequencies on routes from Vienna to Milan, Venice, Bologna, Florence, Rome and Naples.

Eurowings is reducing its flights to and from Venice, Bologna and Milan until 8 March. Eurowings flights to other destinations in Italy are currently not affected. 

For its Italian route network, Brussels Airlines has decided to reduce its flights to Rome, Milan, Venice and Bologna by 30 percent until 14 March.

The State Department has increased its advisory level for Italy due to the outbreak to Level 3 – Reconsider Travel. The Veneto and Lombardy regions are listed at Level 4 – Do Not Travel, which is the most severe rating on the State Department’s four-point travel advisory scale. 

There are now 92,943 cases of the coronavirus worldwide, and 3,160 deaths, according to the latest remarks from World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, noting that the WHO has raised its assessment of the risk of spread and impact from the virus to “very high” at the global level.

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