Romania shuts schools, halts Italy flights to ward off virus

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania has shut down all schools and suspended flights to and from Italy, seeking to limit the spread of the coronavirus to the Black Sea state, as the number of new infections has risen, authorities said on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: Health workers wearing protective suits transport a patient infected with coronavirus inside a hospital in Timisoara, western Romania, March 6, 2020. Picture taken March 6, 2020. Inquam Photos/Virgil Simonescu via REUTERS

In less than two weeks, Romania has confirmed 17 cases of coronavirus in people who have traveled to Italy, where about 1.3 million Romanians live.

Around 3.5 million children aged 3-18 are subject to the closure of schools and kindergartens, from Wednesday until March 22, Prime Minister Ludovic Orban said after an emergency meeting on coronavirus.

“We had to take this decision. It’s just a precautionary measure, and there’s potential for an extension ... we want to see how this disease evolves,” Orban said.

Thousands of schools in the poor Romanian countryside do not have public sewage networks or running water.

Earlier in the day, Interior Minister Marcel Vela said all flights to and from Italy “by all airline companies operating at all airports in Romania, as of today, 1000 GMT until March 23.”

The flights are operated by national flag carriers Tarom and Alitalia, Wizz Air WIZZ.L, Ryanair RYA.I and Blue Air.

Vela said no measures have been taken for ground border checkpoints, but said people coming from Italy, China, South Korea and Iran would need to be quarantined for checks.

All public events and gatherings that involve more than 1,000 people have also been banned, along with any visits to hospitalized people.

Earlier in the day, the Romanian Football Federation (FRF) said all Romanian league matches would be played without spectators attending until further notice.

About 13,000 people who have arrived home from Italy are currently confined to their homes in self-isolation for 14 days.

Editing by Alison Williams and David Evans