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COVID-19 RULES

Italy pushes for EU-wide China Covid measures as tests show no new variants

Italy's mandatory testing of visitors from China has not detected any new coronavirus variants, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said on Thursday, as she called for coordinated EU-wide measures.

Italy pushes for EU-wide China Covid measures as tests show no new variants
Italy's testing of arrivals from China would be “ineffective if not followed at a European level”, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni told her year-end press conference in Rome on Thursday. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

The European Commission was debating a bloc-wide response to the end of China’s zero-Covid containment measures on Thursday, following Italy’s adoption of mandatory testing for all travellers arriving from China.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni continued to push for a common approach from EU member states as she revealed that Italy’s testing so far had not found any new coronavirus strains.

READ ALSO: Italy orders Covid screening for all arrivals from China

Those who have tested positive so far are carriers of “Omicron variants already present in Italy”, Meloni told her end-of-year press conference on Thursday afternoon.

Italy ordered tests on all arrivals from China on Wednesday following an explosion in cases reported by Beijing.

Meloni said the screening policy would be “ineffective” if not done on a European level, as only people arriving on direct flights from China were being tested in Italy, not those with stopovers.

She called for the EU to follow Rome’s move to test all air arrivals from China for coronavirus, and said Health Minister Orazio Schillaci would be pushing for the EU to roll out bloc-wide screening.

Schillaci said testing arrivals was “essential to ensure the surveillance and identification of any variants of the virus in order to protect the Italian population”.

READ ALSO: Why has Italy ordered Covid tests for all arrivals from China?

A passenger undergoes Covid testing at Rome’s Fiumicino airport. All travellers from China must undergo Covid testing on arrival in Italy, the goverment announced on Wednesday. (Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP)

Rome’s Spallanzani hospital for infectious diseases had warned on Wednesday that “in a country [like China] with a high percentage of unvaccinated people, in which ineffective vaccines have been used that give low population protection, such a strong exponential growth in infections could generate the selection of a new variant, much more immune-evasive and transmissible”

Milan’s Malpensa airport reported on Wednesday that almost half of all passengers arriving on flights from China had tested positive.

Those who test positive on arrival are required to isolate for at least five days, the health ministry confirmed.

Italy was the first European country to be hit by coronavirus in early 2020, introducing first a nationwide lockdown and then compulsory vaccines for certain people.

Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy party, which won September elections, had strongly criticised the restrictions when in opposition, and has sworn to take a different approach since taking power.

Coronavirus infections have surged in China as it unwinds hardline controls that had torpedoed the economy and sparked nationwide protests.

But a growing number of countries, including the United States, have imposed restrictions on visitors after China’s decision to end mandatory quarantine on arrival.

Health officials from the European Union’s 27 countries met on Thursday to “discuss the Covid-19 situation in China and possible measures to be taken in a co-ordinated way”.

“Co-ordination of national responses to serious cross-border threats to health is crucial,” the committee said after the meeting had concluded. “We need to act jointly and will continue our discussions.”

At the time of publishing no other EU member states have said that they intend to follow Italy’s lead, although French President Emmanuel Macron has asked his government to take “protective measures”.

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POLITICS

Analysis: Could Bolsonaro get Italian citizenship to avoid extradition?

Brazil’s former president may soon face legal charges after last week’s attempted coup. Here’s why he’s considering becoming an Italian citizen to escape extradition from the US.

Analysis: Could Bolsonaro get Italian citizenship to avoid extradition?

Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has figured heavily in international news lately after hundreds of his supporters stormed government buildings in the capital Brasilia on Sunday, January 8th, in what has now been widely recognised as a failed coup. 

And though there is currently no evidence that Bolsonaro directly ordered Sunday’s insurrection, Brazilian media reports suggest the former president may, in the words of Brazilian Senator Renan Calheiros, have to “answer for his crimes and be interrogated on the terrorist acts he always incited”.

It is precisely the prospect of legal prosecution that, in a turn of events very few would have been able to anticipate, might tie Bolsonaro’s fate to Italy.

Brazilian news media Istoè and O globo both recently reported that Bolsonaro, who has Italian origins, is currently planning on formally requesting Italian citizenship – a process which two of his five sons, Flavio and Eduardo, started back in 2020.

But why would becoming an Italian citizen allow Bolsonaro to evade prosecution in Brazil?

Bolsonaro is currently in Florida, USA, which he entered on December 30th, two days before his successor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, was sworn in as the new Brazilian head of state. 

Aftermath of failed coup in Brasilia, Brazil

Hundreds of Bolsonaro supporters stormed Brasilia, Brazil’s capital, on Sunday, January 8th. Photo by Carl DE SOUZA / AFP

But his position in the US is shaky, to say the least. A single criminal charge – Bolsonaro is already under investigation in at least four pre-coup criminal probes – and sufficient evidence to show probable cause would be enough for the States to accept Brazil’s extradition request. 

Conversely, as an Italian citizen residing in Italy, Bolsonaro would be most likely shielded from extradition as the current agreements between Rome and Brasilia exclude extradition for crimes of political nature and the Italian Constitution (article 26) bans the “extradition of [an Italian] citizen unless international conventions command so”.

So, it seems Bolsonaro would effectively be able to evade prosecution by acquiring Italian citizenship. But should he ultimately choose to request citizenship, how likely is it that he would be successful?

While there’s no way to predict what the final outcome would be, he’d have good chances, at least in theory.

Italy is far more lenient than other countries when it comes to allowing people to claim citizenship via ancestry (also known as ‘right of blood’ or jure sanguinis).

In fact, there are no limits on how far back up the line of descent the applicant’s Italian ancestor is located as long as the Italian national in question was alive on or after March 17th 1861, when the Kingdom of Italy was officially born. 

READ ALSO: Reader question: Will my children get an Italian passport if born in Italy?

Bolsonaro’s paternal great-grandfather, Vittorio Bolzonaro, moved to Brazil from Anguillara Veneta, Veneto in the late 1880s or early 1890s at the very latest.

Other than that, the issue of Italian citizenship is dependent on one remaining condition, namely that no Italian national along the line of descent formally renounced their Italian citizenship prior to the birth of their descendant. 

Italy's foreign minister Antonio Tajani

Italy’s foreign minister Antonio Tajani has recently confirmed that no request for Italian citizenship has been made yet by Bolsonaro. Photo by Daniel MIHAILESCU / AFP

There’s no way to know whether this requirement is actually met in Bolsonaro’s case, though, if it were, his path to acquiring Italian citizenship would be pretty clear. 

As with all things Italian, the process of getting an Italian citizenship application approved is usually very lengthy (taking over three years in most cases). However, there is a ‘fast-track’ option which, while requiring the applicant to relocate to Italy and become a legal resident, cuts overall processing times to around one year. 

So, should Bolsonaro ultimately go for the fast-track route – and provided that he applied immediately and all his documents (including birth, death and marriage certificates of all his relevant ancestors) were in order – the earliest he could become an Italian citizen would be at some point in 2024. 

READ ALSO: What’s the difference between Italian residency and citizenship?

This is of course all purely hypothetical at present, especially as Italy’s foreign minister Antonio Tajani confirmed on Wednesday that Bolsonaro hasn’t (yet) submitted a request for Italian citizenship. 

But the mere prospect of Brazil’s former president applying for citizenship has caused a stir within the Italian political landscape – several left-wing forces have already asked that the request be immediately rejected should it ever come through.

Brazil's former president Jair Bolsonaro in Italy

Bolsonaro already has honorary Italian citizenship, which was granted by the small town of Anguillara Veneta in 2021. Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP

Some Italian social media users also highlighted the fact that it’s relatively difficult for children born in Italy to foreign parents to obtain Italian citizenship.

“Before (possibly) giving Italian citizenship to the Bolsonaro family you must give it to all children born and living in Italy who wish to be Italian citizens,” said one.

The former president already has honorary Italian citizenship, granted by Anguillara Veneta, the small town Bolsonaro’s great-grandfather originally emigrated from. However, the town’s mayor is now under increasing pressure to revoke it.

Making Bolsonaro an honorary citizen was a “grave error then” but failing to revoke the award after Sunday’s events would be nothing short of “incomprehensible”, stated Veneto regional councillors Vanessa Camani and Andrea Zanoni, both with the Democratic Party.

As for the Italian government, PM Giorgia Meloni took to Twitter on Sunday to condemn the insurrection in Brasilia. However, neither she nor any other member of her cabinet have so far taken a stance on Bolsonaro’s contentious citizenship issue.

Also, at the time of writing, no member of the League, which largely supported Bolsonaro during his tenure as president and praised him as the “pride of Veneto” in October 2018, has spoken out on the topic.

Whether it’s just a bad bout of forgetfulness or deliberate reticence, the silence is deafening.

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