How airport testing in Italy works – and what happens if you test positive

Anne Hanley
·5-min read
A drive-through testing centre at an Italian airport - getty
A drive-through testing centre at an Italian airport - getty

The United Kingdom was added to Italy's Covid at-risk list this week, obliging British arrivals (including children) to prove that they're not importing the virus.

No one will force you to come clean, an Italian health ministry spokesperson said, adding "it depends on each individual's sense of responsibility. But breaching Covid rules in Italy is a crime: anyone caught faces criminal prosecution."

Information (some of which, as of October 9, is still out of date) can be found on the Health ministry's website, where you can also download the personal declaration form which must be handed to your airline before landing. This asks for details of where you'll be staying and how you can be contacted. It also requires you to swear that you've obtained a negative result in a Covid test done within the previous 72 hours, or, alternatively, to commit to doing a test within 48 hours of arrival.

If you get tested before you travel, bring evidence. Airport staff will probably not ask to see the test result, but local authorities at your destination might. 

Which airports are offering tests on arrival?

Healthcare in Italy is the responsibility of regions, not the state, so provisions vary between ports of entry around the country. Almost all the country's airports (including Fiumicino and Ciampino in Rome, Malpensa and Linate in Milan, and Marco Polo in Venice, as well as the ports of Civitavecchia and Livorno, and Santa Maria Novella train station in Florence) now have testing stations inside and/or drive-through facilities outside.

It's worth checking airport websites for precise timetables for Covid testing: in some cases drive-through centres kick in when testing stations close for the night. Tests administered in these facilities are free.

Coronavirus Italy Spotlight Chart - cases default
Coronavirus Italy Spotlight Chart - cases default

How long does the process take? 

Returning from Athens recently, before Greece was removed from Italy's red list, I waited just 15 minutes to be tested at Rome's Fiumicino airport. I've heard of other travellers who have waited an hour or so. But clearly, the length of the queue will depend on arrival numbers and demand, which fluctuates with regular updates of the at-risk list. The addition of the UK to the list coincided with the removal of Croatia. 

Most testing centres are using rapid antigen tests. These are very slightly more likely to return an inaccurate result than the gold-standard PCR tests but they have the immense advantage of being less invasive – a quick swab in each nostril rather than far down your nasal cavity or throat – and the result comes remarkably quickly. 

How long until the results arrive? 

You'll have your rapid antigen test results within 30 minutes, which you can sit out in the testing station, or in your car if you've opted for the drive-in. 

In Fiumicino, they call out your number and hand you a print-out with your result. You then have to flash that print-out to the police standing at the door – you can’t just sneak away if you’ve been tested and are positive! However, the exact process may vary depending on your port of arrival.

What if you can't get a test on arrival? 

There's no one at the airport checking your test results or forcing you into the testing station: it's up to you to follow rules. But bear in mind that if you don't, you may well fall foul of spot checks. 

If you go for the 'I'll get tested later' option, a whole list of further rules kicks in. You must make your way straight to your accommodation by private transport and contact the local health authority there, which will arrange tests or explain what your next step should be. Until the test is done, and until you have a negative result, it's against the law to exit your accommodation for any reason. Regional information numbers are provided on the Health ministry website.  

Will the rules be enforced? 

As the Health ministry explained, the onus is on each of us to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, though this doesn't mean that shirkers will always escape the authorities' watchful eye. With tracking and tracing very much decentralised, the likelihood of having your case followed up varies immensely depending where you are: some small towns and country districts are particularly diligent in chasing up new arrivals and making sure they're toeing the line – providing of course that personal information forms are forwarded on by port-of-entry administration in time. 

Of the people tested at Italy's airports about one per cent are reported to return a positive result. Covid sufferers with a home to go to in Italy are allowed to return there – using private transport, obviously – and their details will be sent to local health authorities who will check that they observe a two-week quarantine period and don't venture out until a second test comes back negative.

Any other travellers who test positive will be taken to a quarantine hotel where they'll sit it out – at their own expense – until tests prove that they're sufficiently virus-free to venture out again. 

Italy's tracing app Immuni has seen a bounce in downloads since case numbers began climbing earlier this month. It's anonymous, works with Bluetooth and is available in English.