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  • The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern.

    The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern. | Photo: Reuters

Published 18 February 2020
Opinion

Chinese Italians and activists say that disinformation perpetuated by politicians and false claims in the social and mass media has led to an "atmosphere of hate"

The deadly outbreak of the new coronavirus in China has triggered a "hysterical" and "shameful wave of sinophobia" in Italy, according to members of the Chinese-Italian community.

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A human rights group, as well as tourists of Chinese and Asian origin, have reported acts of violence, discrimination and harassment that include assaults, calls for sexual violence, insults, and boycotts of companies.

Chinese-Italians and activists say that disinformation perpetuated by politicians and false claims in the social and mass media has led to an "atmosphere of hate." Several cases of aggression have been reported throughout Italy by local media outlets.

According to Bologna Today, a 15-year-old Chinese-Italian boy was punched and kicked in the face while his attackers shouted, "What are you doing in Italy? Go away! You're bringing the disease."

Days later, in the southern city of Cagliari, a hospitalized 31-year-old Filipino told La Nuova Sardegna, a local newspaper, that he had been attacked by a group of young people who thought he was Chinese and accused him of "bringing the virus" to Italy.

In Milan, Hongqin Zhou, whose family emigrated to Italy's financial capital more than three decades ago, said a taxi driver refused to take her, telling her he feared she might have the virus.

"The virus has become a justification for expressing prejudice and hatred. It wasn't so bad during the SARS epidemic 17 years ago," she told Al Jazeera, referring to the 2002-2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, which also originated in China.

The new coronavirus, first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late December, has killed more than 2,000 people and infected more than 75,000 worldwide.

It has spread to more than two dozen countries, including Italy, which has three confirmed cases, but nearly 99 percent of the deaths and infections have been reported in mainland China.

The Italian government reacted with alarm, suspending flights to China and declaring a six-month state of emergency to combat the virus, being one of the countries outside of China to qualify the epidemic as a local emergency.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, mainly because of fears that the virus could spread to countries with weaker health systems.

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