Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has scrapped a visit to oil-rich Angola and the Republic of the Congo after testing positive for COVID-19, his office has said.
A statement from his office on Monday said Draghi, 74, who was to fly to Luanda on Wednesday and Brazzaville on Thursday for talks on switching energy supplies from Russia, is “asymptomatic”.
He will be replaced by foreign minister Luigi Di Maio and the minister in charge of ecological transition, Roberto Cingolani.
Last week, Italy and Algeria signed agreements to strengthen energy ties and increase the North African state’s energy exports to Italy. Draghi announced the deals in Algeria on April 11, adding that they were a significant step in Italy’s drive to reduce its dependency on Russian gas.
Italy, which is heavily dependent on foreign gas, bought some 29 billion cubic metres (bcm) from Russia last year, about 40 percent of its total gas imports.
The prime minister said the gas deal with Algeria had been signed by the two countries’ dominant energy players, Eni and Sonatrach. Details of the deal were not immediately available.
As part of a broader declaration of intent, Draghi said Italy was ready to work with Algeria to develop renewable energy and green hydrogen.
Rome and Algiers already had a contract for gas deliveries up until 2027.
There have been debates about whether other countries – in Africa and beyond – can step up to provide alternative gas supplies to Europe since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.
Italy has also reached out to make arrangements with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, Azerbaijan and Qatar, among others.
The Russian invasion has triggered sweeping Western sanctions that threaten to disrupt energy flows, raising the possibility of gas shortages.
Ecological transition minister Roberto Cingolani said earlier this month that Italy expected to get an extra 10 bcm of gas from pipelines from Algeria, Libya and Azerbaijan this year.