CIVITAVECCHIA (Italy): The Costa Smeralda cruise ship docked at the port on Thursday.—AFP
CIVITAVECCHIA (Italy): The Costa Smeralda cruise ship docked at the port on Thursday.—AFP

ROME: Prominent figures in Chinese communities in Italy warned on Thursday of episodes of “latent racism” against their compatriots by Italians fearful of catching a deadly viral outbreak.

Tensions increased after some 7,000 people were held on a cruise ship in an Italian port following the isolation of two Chinese passengers over fears they could be carrying the coronavirus, despite preliminary tests coming up negative.

Italian newspapers have reported cases of bullying or discrimination against Chinese people following the outbreak of the disease.

“It’s extremely unpleasant, absurd, and infuriating,” Francesco Wu, a member of the Italian Business Association Confcommercio, often called on to speak for the 30,000-strong Chinese community in Milan, told La Stampa daily.

Racist episodes reportedly included Chinese tourists being spat at in Venice, a family in Turin being accused of carrying the disease, and mothers in Milan using social media to call for Italian children to be kept away from Chinese classmates.

“It’s totally unjustified and it hurts even more because it involves children. It’s a mix of ignorance and latent racism,” Wu said.

There were some 300,000 Chinese living in Italy at the end of 2018, according to the National Statistics Institute.

Italy has not had any confirmed cases of the virus.

Thousands held

More than 6,000 tourists were under lockdown aboard a cruise ship at an Italian port on Thursday after two Chinese passengers were isolated over fears they could be carrying the coronavirus.

Preliminary tests on the pair suggested they were not carrying the virus, the ministry of health said, but it was not immediately clear whether passengers would be allowed to leave the Costa Smeralda vessel before final results were confirmed.

The Lazzaro Spallanzani national institute for infectious diseases is examining samples taken from a Chinese woman who fell ill with a fever as well as her travelling companion. It said that the definitive results could take up to 48 hours.Cruise line Costa Crociere confirmed the ship, which is currently in the port of Civitavecchia, was on lockdown with some 7,000 people in total including the crew on board.

Published in Dawn, January 31st, 2020