Foreign ministry advises against travel to northern Italy ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tallinn.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tallinn. Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Despite the Ministry of Foreign Affairs advising against traveling to northern Italy, which has Europe's biggest coronavirus outbreak, Estonian travel agencies are still sending tour groups to the region.

The Foreign Ministry 's consular news website Reisitargalt.ee (link in Estonian) advises says: "Due to the spread of the new coronavirus and the resulting rapidly changing situation, additional measures - entry control, movement restrictions, quarantine - may be introduced at short notice in several countries to prevent the spread of the disease, including in areas where there are currently no movement restrictions or travel warnings. The risk of being subject to quarantine or curfews may arise suddenly."

But on Thursday, ERR found at least one travel company operating in Estonia still taking tourist groups to northern Italy.

The Association of Estonian Travel Agents told ERR it does not give its members any recommendations on traveling to risk areas. "The Association of Estonian Travel Agents does not make recommendations to companies, everyone makes the decision themselves. We cannot do it, it is not legally right," said Anne Samlik, Vice-President of the Union.

On Thursday, the Health Board announced the third Estonian resident to be diagnosed with the COVID-19 coronavirus had traveled from Bergamo, in northern Italy, via Riga to Estonia on February 29.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications (MKM) has been in contact with tour operators, a spokesman for the ministry said. At the same time, MKM cannot order tour operators to do anything, the spokesperson said.

A ministry spokesman said a coronavirus working group has been set up at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to monitor the situation and make necessary decisions. Representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have also talked with Estonian tourism companies.

Based on the risk assessment of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (EDCD), China and northern Italy (Lombardy, Veneto, Emilia-Romagna and Piedmont), Iran, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea have been designated as coronavirus risk areas.

Travelers and tour operators can cancel holidays

The Consumer Protection and Technical Regulatory Authority (TTJA) has issued guidance and is referring people to the European Union's regulation of package travel. This provides the traveler and the tour operator with the right to terminate the package travel contract before the start of the trip without paying any termination fee when unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances occur in or near the destination which significantly affects the provision of package travel services or the carriage of passengers to their destination.

Such circumstances may include, for example, serious security concerns such as terrorism, significant threats to human health, such as the outbreak of a serious illness at the destination, or natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, or weather conditions that make it impossible to travel safely to the destination.

Depending on the warnings from the Health Board and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a passenger may have the right to cancel a package trip and get a full refund if the trip goes to a risk area, or travels through one. The tour operator may also have the right to cancel such a package tour by refunding the traveler the full cost of travel, according to the TTJA website.

As risk areas are rapidly changing over time, a decision to withdraw from a travel contract should be made approximately two weeks prior to travel. Should the package travel contract be terminated due to unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances at or near the place of destination, the parties shall not be entitled to claim any further compensation from each other. 

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Editor: Helen Wright

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