Italy is now the third country in the world for the number of infections caused by Coronavirus, after China and South Korea.
I know that, for the blog of a travel website like this, talking about the spread of a disease – although we still don’t know what’s going to happen either in Italy or in the rest of Europe and the world – is a heavy topic and not exactly good news, but the truth must come first.
Walter Ricciardi, member of the World Health Organization’s Executive Board and Professor of Hygiene and Public Health at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Rome, very clearly stated: “We [Italy] pay the consequences of not having immediately quarantined people who landed from China. We banned direct flights, a decision that has no scientific basis, and which did not allow us to trace the arrivals, because people were able to stop over and arrive from other places.”
Professor Ricciardi was referring to the possibility left open to travellers of, for example, taking a flight from Beijing to Dubai, changing tickets and then heading to Rome or Milan.
Another authority on the subject, famous virologist Roberto Burioni, as early as 7 February was writing:
“The virus in China might be out of control, but it is not here yet. The only chance we have for not letting it in is only, and I repeat only, the quarantine of those who return. All, without distinction. It is not racism, but a simple and elementary measure of self-protection, which costs a little discomfort to the people who are isolated and provides us with infinite security, while avoiding hateful and unnecessary discrimination.”
Dr Burioni later declared in an interview to Il Corriere della Sera:
Oh, I know, they called me an alarmist, even a fascist leghista [supporter of the centre-right Lega party], because from the beginning I claimed that isolating people from China was the only effective way to avoid the spread of the virus. I stress: people, not Chinese.
As you may have already noticed, the political climate in Italy has over time become excessively, paranoidly fixated against any supposed “fascism” or “racism”, even when there is none, to the point of neglecting basic considerations of, as in this case, health and self-preservation.
Something similar is happening in many other Western countries: see the example of the street distribution in Canada of bottles of hand sanitiser bearing the message ‘Stop the Spread’, referring not to Coronavirus but to xenophobia and intolerance. However, such attitudes of “the stigma is worse than the virus” in Italy have had more devastating consequences, due to the actions of the current government, which has been described as “the most unfit in the history of the Italian Republic”.
On 31 January, the day after two Chinese tourists who had arrived from Wuhan to Milan Malpensa Airport were discovered as Italy’s first two cases of the virus, the leader of the Lega party himself, Matteo Salvini, wrote on Twitter:
“Let me understand … The first two cases of Coronavirus in Italy apparently have quietly landed at Malpensa on 23 January and, without any control, travelled for days across half of Italy, until checking into a hotel in the centre of Rome.
“Is this how the government protects the health and safety of Italians? The Lega for days has been calling for quarantines, checks, blocks and information, but for Leftist politicians and journalists we were ‘speculators’ and jackals. Let us pray to God that there will be no disaster, but whoever has done wrong must pay.”
He also tweeted: “Check every single entry. By sea, by air, by land. While other countries took immediate action, in Italy there was the impression that someone has been wasting time. And you can’t play with the health of citizens.”
Salvini’s words, like Dr Burioni’s, were welcomed by insults as well as totally ignored by the government.
Instead, a much more reasonable response came from a Chinese in self-isolation, married and mother-of-three Xia Weihong, 48: the Lega is right, she said to the Libero newspaper.
Italy’s Centre-Left government was busy in fighting not an all-too-real virus but an imaginary risk of anti-Chinese racism, as if the highly-justified fear of contagion had been a symptom of dangerous xenophobia.
So we saw the President of the Republic Mattarella visiting a Rome’s school attended by Chinese children to show his solidarity; initiatives like “embrace a Chinese” launched by Florence mayor Nardella; politicians and media people eating spring rolls in Chinese restaurants.
Except that, when a few cases of the virus were found in some parts of northern Italy, none of these personages went to embrace inhabitants of the Italian affected area.
This is the first post on the subject, and will be followed by others.