Following the decision taken on 30 January 2020 by the Presidency of the Council of Ministers in collaboration with the Ministry of Health to suspend air traffic between Italy and China, the Farnesina took immediate action with the establishment of a Special Operations Unit composed of the Ministry's Crisis Unit, the top management of ENAC (Italian Civil Aviation Authority) and representatives of the Ministry of Health and Civil Protection.
The conclusions of the Special Operations Unit meeting were integrated into the work of the Civil Protection Operations Committee, and the first result of this joint action was the modification of the initial NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) issued by ENAC.
As of 1 February, cargo flights with China were resumed, and certain exemptions from the suspension of commercial flights were authorised to allow Chinese citizens currently in Italy to return home and for humanitarian repatriation.
On 3 February, 56 Italians who had asked to leave the city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the spread of the coronavirus and isolated for days, returned home on a flight organised by the Farnesina Crisis Unit and operated by the COI (Italian Joint Operations Headquarters) - Defence, at the behest of the Chinese authorities.
The Farnesina Crisis Unit, in conjunction with the Italian Embassy in Beijing and the entire Italian consular network in China, also provides daily assistance to Italians in China and neighbouring countries who ask for indications on possible ways to return to Italy. In particular, since 27 January the Operations Room of the Crisis Unit has handled over 5,300 calls, there has been a 55% increase in registrations on the website DoveSiamoNelMondo.it and over 206,000 visits to the institutional website ViaggiareSicuri.it, with an 82% increase compared to the same period of the previous year. The owners of the "Crisis Units" mobile application received more than 1000 notifications, and almost 100 updates of Country Fact Sheets were made in twelve days to provide accurate information on the spread of the coronavirus and the containment measures taken by countries affected by the virus.
In addition to the extensive work carried out by the Crisis Unit, the daily effort of the diplomatic-consular network in China is also to be appreciated. The Italian diplomatic offices in China assist hundreds of compatriots daily and have also acted in favour of the Chinese population, to promote activities in support of the local community. The Italian Embassy in Beijing has been directly involved and always at the forefront, together with the Farnesina Crisis Unit, in the complex and delicate operation of returning Italians present in Wuhan, with whom constant and close contact has been maintained.
Finally, the Farnesina is continuing to work to allow the return, in the shortest possible time, of the 17-year-old Italian found negative to the coronavirus test. He initially remained in Wuhan due to a fever that did not allow him to board the flight on 3 February. The Italian Embassy in Beijing is in constant contact with him.