Albania halts schools, Italy flights, ferries over coronavirus

TIRANA (Reuters) - Albania reported its first coronavirus infections on Monday - two men who returned from Italy and four family members of one of them - prompting the government to shut down schools for two weeks and cancel flights and ferries to Italy until April 3.

Just before midnight, the health ministry said a 28-year-old man and four members of his family, including his 54-year-old father, had contracted the virus, along with a 31-year-old man who had traveled for one day to Milan six days ago.

It added those six out of a total of 77 people tested so far were suffering from the coronavirus and their condition showed “no peculiar problems”.

“Our measures today will be ... to suspend direct flights or (ferry) travel from northern Italy and practically from all red zones that have been isolated completely (in Italy) until April 3, and to shut down schools for two weeks...,” Prime Minister Edi Rama told an emergency cabinet meeting.

Anyone entering Albania from quarantined areas of Italy, which has suffered Europe’s deadliest outbreak of coronavirus, will have to self-isolate and face punishment if they do not do so, Health Minister Ogerta Manastirliu said.

Rama said authorities had also ordered cancellations of all large public gatherings including cultural events and were asking sporting federations to cancel scheduled matches.

More than 400,000 Albanians live in Italy, Albania’s main trading partner, across the Adriatic Sea.

Other countries bordering Italy also took steps to curb the spread of the virus, with Switzerland announcing checks of Italian commuters’ Swiss work permits and Austria saying it plans spot health checks of people crossing its southern border.

Albania’s garments industry has been hard hit by the coronavirus crisis as its Italian contractors are having trouble importing fabrics from China, where the epidemic began, and have placed no orders over the past few weeks.

Reporting by Benet Koleka; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Richard Pullin