March 5, 2020 / 1:02 PM / 22 days ago

Dutch, fearing coronavirus, brace for return of 900 students from Italian Alps

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Netherlands, anxious to protect the public from coronavirus, is scrambling to put together a plan for the imminent return of around 900 students from a ski trip in northern Italy, at the heart of Europe’s worst outbreak of the disease.

FILE PHOTO: A worker in a protective mask is seen at Rome's Fiumicino airport, after first cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Italy, January 31, 2020. REUTERS/Yara Nardi/File Photo

The trip to the Italian Alps by the group, mostly in their early 20s, has stoked fears of a wider spread of the virus in the Netherlands, where the number of confirmed corona cases jumped from 38 to 82 on Thursday.

“We are working very hard to prepare for all different scenarios,” local health authorities spokeswoman Hanneke Mensink said.

These scenarios might include plans to monitor or test all students involved after their return. Mensink said it was too early to say how local healthcare teams would deal specifically with the risk of so many returning from Italy at once.

Healthcare staff will try to collect students from each bus carrying them home this Saturday to provide guidance and possibly have them undergo tests.

The students, all members of the same Vindicat fraternity in the northern Dutch city of Groningen, were originally set to return on Sunday, but on Thursday decided to shorten their trip by a day. They will have spent six days in Sestriere in the Italian Alps, 100 km (62 miles) west of Turin.

During their stay, the Dutch government changed its travel advice for the region, saying any trip to northern Italy should be cancelled unless it was absolutely necessary to go.

The local health authorities in Groningen, however, had already warned against the trip before the group left on Saturday, Mensink said. “We told them our worries, but they decided to go anyway. That is their responsibility.”

Mensink said her organisation was in daily contact with the skiing group and that so far none of the travellers had reported any sign of coronavirus contagion.

The National Health Institute on Tuesday advised members to closely monitor their health in the coming weeks and distance themselves from others if they develop any coronavirus symptoms.

Reporting by Bart Meijer; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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