February 7, 2020 / 12:53 AM / 16 days ago

UPDATE 5-Italy contradicts China over possible air traffic restart

(Adds Di Maio)

ROME/SHANGHAI, Feb 7 (Reuters) - Italy on Friday contradicted China’s assertions over a possible resumption of flights between the two countries, in a move that could further raise diplomatic tensions after Rome’s decision to shut air traffic due to the coronavirus emergency.

Rome’s decision on Jan. 31 to block flights to and from China was greeted with dismay in Beijing, which has been lobbying in the last few days to have the ban lifted.

“The block on flights is a measure taken to immediately deal with an emergency and we will keep it in place as long as health authorities and therefore the scientific community tell us we should,” Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio told a news conference in Madrid.

China’s vice foreign minister, Qin Gang met Italy’s ambassador to China, Luca Ferrari, on Thursday, when they discussed the issue, the Chinese ministry said.

Qin told Ferrari that Italy’s decision to stop flights without contacting China in advance had caused “great inconvenience” to citizens of both countries.

It said the ambassador had told the Chinese vice minister that Italy was willing to approve some applications from Chinese airlines to resume flights. However Italy denied this.

Taiwan, which China claims as its own, has also expressed anger that the ban included the island.

On Thursday an Italian national was tested positive for the coronavirus. It was the third confirmed case in the country after two Chinese tourists. (Reporting by Brenda Goh and Angelo Amante; Additional Reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei Editing by Himani Sarkar, Robert Birsel and Giles Elgood)

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