July 15, 2020 / 11:05 AM / 24 days ago

Austria to lift travel warning for Italian region of Lombardy

VIENNA, July 15 (Reuters) - Austria will lift its travel warning for Lombardy, the region at the centre of Italy's novel coronavirus outbreak, because of a fall in infections, Austria's Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday.

The relaxation could pave the way for the resumption of flights between Lombardy's capital Milan and Vienna, since such travel warnings come with a ban on direct connections.

It will, however, make little difference for those travelling by land as Austria lifted controls at the shared border a month ago, three months after they were introduced when Italy's outbreak worsened.

"The epidemiological development of the province, which was hit first and particularly hard by the pandemic, now makes this step possible," Austria's Foreign Ministry said in a statement, adding that the travel warning would be lifted on Thursday.

The coronavirus has killed roughly 35,000 people in Italy, the fifth highest number in the world after the United States, Brazil, Britain and Mexico.

Austria, by contrast, has reported just 710 deaths so far.

But in recent weeks Austria has seen an increase in infections connected to Balkan countries, and has introduced travel warnings for Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia, as well as European Union member states Bulgaria and Romania.

Those warnings have also meant a ban on direct flights, which flag-carrier Austrian Airlines, part of Lufthansa , said was "an enormous challenge", particularly for passengers with connecting flights.

"We advocate a uniform and stable travel policy within the EU so as not to weaken Vienna's position as a flight hub in the long term. Business travellers and other transfer passengers will otherwise find alternative ways of getting to long-haul destinations," Austrian said in a statement on Wednesday.

"We want and must find a solution for transfer traffic in order to prevent uncontrolled entry as fast as possible." (Reporting by Francois Murphy; editing by Barbara Lewis)

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