Racism more blatant in Italy after govt. declares nationwide lockdown


When the Italian prime minister declared the whole country on lockdown, foreigners living inside the country speak of their anxiety as racism against Asians spread just as fast as the coronavirus.

“There’s a lot of anxiety going on in Florence,” James Khoo, a Singaporean studying in Florence told CNA, as the unprecedented nationwide measures to curtail the spread of the disease were enforced.

“I’m very frightened about the racism against Asian people and it has been increasingly tense,” he said. “I was called a ‘virus’ on the street by some (French-speaking) tourists,” he added, saying he felt irritated at the ignorance.

Italy closed all schools and universities until March 15, which after the latest announcement on new measures has been extended until April 03.

Mr Khoo, who is diabetic, also has other concerns regarding logistics and his health as the outbreak has also made it harder for him to get supplies.

“If you go to pharmacies, you can’t find any surgical masks and some supermarkets have run out of toiletries,” he said. “I’ve gone out to every single pharmacy in town – in the city centre and in the suburbs.”

He added: “In terms of wanting to go and buy food, it could also become a problem. I’m sure the (lockdown) will affect the farmers’ market which is generally cheaper.”

Mr. Khoo said that he was considering heading to another European country to wait out the lockdown in Italy if things get out of hand – or even return to Singapore.

“A lot of Singaporeans I know are leaving for other European countries. For the current lockdown, we aren’t sure what to do next,” he said, adding he was currently waiting on more information from Singapore authorities.

“A lot of foreign students are just leaving the country.”

On Monday night, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte declared “all movement across the country” was to be avoided unless it was for work, reasons of necessity or health reasons.

Previous measures like quarantines and school closures did not help contain the spread of the virus in Italy – the worst affected European country.

“It is prohibited to gather in and outside bars open to the public … We cannot allow ourselves any more these occasions of meeting, which become occasions of contagion,” said Mr. Conte.

The death toll in Italy is over 600, with more than 10,000 confirmed cases.

The disease, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has spread to more than 100 countries and infected tens of thousands of people around the world.

The World Health Organization warned on Monday there was now a “very real” threat that the new coronavirus outbreak will become a pandemic, but stressed the virus could still be controlled. (Source: CNA)