Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 February 2020

Coronavirus: xenophobic incidents on the rise amid panic in Italy

Italy’s prime minister sought to calm nerves on a visit to the UK on Tuesday

The mural in Rome depicts a local Chinese restaurant owner saying 'There is an epidemic of ignorance around ...... We must protect ourselves'. EPA
The mural in Rome depicts a local Chinese restaurant owner saying 'There is an epidemic of ignorance around ...... We must protect ourselves'. EPA

Chinese tourists and communities in Italy have reported a rise in xenophobic incidents as panic over the coronavirus outbreak spreads through Europe.

On Tuesday, a mural designed to hit back at rising xenophobia in the country appeared in Rome.

The mural, painted by the street artist known as Laika, features the owner of a local Chinese restaurant who hit headlines in Europe after complaining her business had been deserted by customers over coronavirus fears.

Visiting London on Tuesday, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said: “There is nothing to justify alarm or panic.”

Mr Conte said “the situation is under control,” and added that “no one should exploit the coronavirus for expressions of discrimination or violence”.

Italy declared a six-month state of emergency on January 31 after confirming its first two cases of the virus. It is the first time a state of emergency has been declared in the country over health concerns.

Shortly after the cases were reported, a sign appeared over the door of a popular tourist spot near the Trevi fountain in Rome barring Chinese people from entering.

Rome’s prestigious music conservatoire caused widespread outrage and is facing continued criticism for its decision to suspend all “oriental students”.

The move was derided as discriminatory by a teacher at the conservatoire, who told Italian newspaper La Repubblica they were “stunned that we would harm the rights of students to attend our courses”.

Mr Conte was forced to rebuke the governors of four northern Italian regions who attempted to block schoolchildren returning from trips in China from attending school for two weeks.

He told the governors their fears were unfounded and asked them to listen to health experts.

Tensions shot up last week after more than 6,000 people were held on board a cruise ship in an Italian port despite negative tests for the virus.

Italy stopped all flights to and from China after declaring its first confirmed cases and has quarantined more than 50 Italian nationals flown back from China in a military base south of the capital.

Italy is the most popular tourist destination for Chinese tourists visiting Europe, with around five million visiting every year. The country is also home to some 300,000 Chinese nationals.

Coronavirus fears could hit the country’s tourism sector by as much as €4.5 billion (Dh 18.2 billion) this year, the Istituto Demoskopika research agency said on Tuesday.

The decline would be worth about five per cent of the sector’s income, the survey said.

Updated: February 5, 2020 05:04 PM

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