The ban applies to South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Swaziland.
Health Minister Roberto Speranza said scientists were studying the new B.1.1.529 variant, “and in the meantime, we will follow the path of maximum caution”.
Germany and Italy on Friday joined Britain in banning most travel from South Africa as governments scramble to prevent the spread of a new Covid-19 variant with a large number of mutations.
In a sign of the growing alarm, the European Union separately proposed prohibiting travel from southern Africa.
The EU’s executive “will propose, in close coordination with member states, to activate the emergency brake to stop air travel from the southern African region due to the variant of concern B.1.1.529,” EU chief Ursula Von der Leyen tweeted on Friday.
In Rome, the government on Friday announced it was banning entry to those who have been in South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia or Eswatini in the past fortnight.
Britain announced that all flights from South Africa and its same neighbours would be prohibited starting 1200 GMT on Friday.
One UK expert described the variant, known as B.1.1.529, as “the worst one we’ve seen so far”, and said there is concern it has the potential to evade immunity, the BBC reports.
No cases have been confirmed in Europe.
Only 59 confirmed cases have been identified in South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana so far.