Politics and Fears of 'Racism' Helped Coronavirus Spread in Italy, Virus Expert Warns

Twitter screenshot of Florence Mayor Dario Nardella hugging a Chinese man amid fears of coronavirus.

While leftists in the U.S. echoed the Chinese Communist Party in branding President Trump racist for calling the coronavirus Chinese, a virus expert in Italy warned that the Italian government stalled in its response to the virus due to politics and fears of racism — and that stalling cost lives. Regardless of political correctness, the Chinese coronavirus started in China and taking concrete action to ban Chinese travel and to isolate people coming from China has been very effective in curbing the virus’s spread.


Italy’s death toll overtook China’s on Thursday, with more than 41,000 confirmed cases and 3,405 deaths.

Dr. Giorgio Palù, the former president of the European and Italian Society for Virology and a professor of virology and microbiology at the University of Padova, told CNN that politics and fears of racism hamstrung the Italian government’s response.

The government was “lazy in the beginning… too much politics in Italy,” Palù said. “There was a proposal to isolate people coming from the epicenter, coming from China. Then it became seen as racist, but they were people coming from the outbreak.” This unwillingness to contain people who posed the greatest risk contributed to the devastating situation, he argued.

Yet this political correctness was not limited to Italy’s national government, as Voice of Europe pointed out.

Northern Italy has been hit hardest by the outbreak, and leaders there encouraged behavior that spreads the virus. Dario Nardella, the Mayor of Florence, urged Italians to “hug a Chinese” in early February, warning that coronavirus fears were leading to racism against Chinese people. Nardella, a member of the left-wing Democratic Party, even tweeted a video of himself hugging a Chinese man.


Videos even showed Italians hugging a Chinese man in an effort to show their solidarity. While the videos may be inspiring in another context, they could be seen as chilling, given the coronavirus outbreak in Italy.

Northern Italy now has the most cases of coronavirus. The Governor of Lombardy recently warned citizens that they must follow the curfew strictly as hospitals will soon be overwhelmed with patients.

Left-leaning media outlets in the U.S. have parroted the line that Trump’s decision to call the virus the “Chinese coronavirus” is racist, even though the president is pushing back on Chinese Communist Party propaganda blaming the U.S. for the virus.

If this Italian virologist is correct, however, these fears of racism are not just overblown but downright deadly. Bad responses to the virus, however well-intentioned, can have a tragic human cost.


Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.


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