Dr. Giorgio Palu

Fear of Being Called Racist Led to Italy’s Coronavirus Crisis, Top Italian Doctor Tells CNN

A prominent Italian doctor and virologist told CNN this week that fear of being called racist led to Italy’s coronavirus crisis, which has killed nearly 5,000 people in the country.

“There was a proposal to isolate people coming from the epicenter, coming from China,” said Dr. Giorgio Palu, the former president of the European and Italian Society for Virology and a professor of virology and microbiology of the University of Padova.

“That, he said, led to the current devastating situation,” the Thursday CNN report paraphrased Palu as saying.

Palu also faulted his government for being “lazy in the beginning,” citing “too much politics in Italy.” He said more testing should have been done when the outbreak started, and the country’s lockdown should have started earlier and been stricter.

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The doctor could not predict when forcing more than 60 million people to stay home would begin to “flatten the curve” of new coronavirus cases. But he said there was no alternative.

“We cannot adopt democracy in information, you must rely on experts,” he said.

What Dr. Giorgio Palu feared

Italy banned travel within the country on Sunday in yet another attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus, with data showing a further 651 people had died from the disease, lifting the number of fatalities to 5,476.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced late on Saturday he would freeze all non-essential business activity after previous measures failed to peg back the contagion, which emerged a month ago in the wealthy north before slowly advancing southwards.

Full details of Conte’s order have yet to be released, but anticipating the new block, the interior and health ministries said people had to stay where they were, unless urgent business or health reasons forced them to move to another town or region.

Italy has registered more deaths than any other country in the world, while the number of confirmed cases is second only to China, with the tally rising by 5,560 to 59,138 on Sunday, the Civil Protection Agency said.

However, offering a ray of hope, the latest figures represented an improvement on Saturday, when the death toll rose by 793 and new cases increased by 6,557.

“We don’t want to get over enthusiastic or overestimate a trend, but compared to yesterday there is a slight drop in the figures,” said Franco Locatelli, the head of Italy’s top Health Council, which advises the government.

“We must not lower our guard, we must continue with the measures taken and respect the government’s instructions,” he told a news conference.

An American disease

In the United States, a number of Democrats, liberal activists and journalists have denounced Republicans and swathes of the public for allegedly being bigoted about the coronavirus.

At a White House press conference Wednesday, several reporters questioned President Donald Trump about his use of the term “Chinese virus” to refer to the coronavirus, suggesting doing so was racist.

However, Trump said he was simply being factual.

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“I didn’t appreciate the fact that China was saying that our military gave it to them. Our military did not give it to anybody,” he said, referring to an unfounded conspiracy being promoted by Chinese officials.

“China was putting out information, which was false, that our military gave this to them. That was false. And, rather than having an argument, I said I had to call it where it came from. It did come from China. So, I think it’s a very accurate term.”

More than 30,000 cases of COVID-19 have been diagnosed in the United States, and 389 people have died.

(Reuters contributed to this report.)

Cover image: Dr. Giorgio Palu. (Screen grab)

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