Italian Mayor Urges Citizens to ‘Hug a Chinese’ to Fight Racism — Then Coronavirus Kills Thousands

Just weeks after Florence mayor Dario Nardella urged citizens to “hug a Chinese” as part of a campaign to fight racism amid the coronavirus outbreak, the Italian city saw its first confirmed case of the illness.

Italy has suffered the world’s deadliest outbreak of the respiratory pandemic with at least 5,476 people dead as of Sunday, most of them in Lombardy, the wealthy northern region anchored by the country’s financial capital Milan.

Conservative radio host Ken Webster Jr. referenced Nardella’s campaign on Thursday in a tweet, which featured photos of Italian citizens hugging Asian people.

Nardella, in a video shared to Twitter on Feb. 1, called on citizens to remain “united in battle” against the coronavirus pandemic and not to succumb to “hate.”

In the clip, Nardella himself is seen hugging an Asian man.

In early February, a member of a group that promotes Chinese-Italian relations took part in a social experiment aimed at fighting racism.

MORE: Study: China Could Have Reduced Coronavirus Cases by 95% If It Had Acted Sooner

The man challenged Italian strangers on the street to hug him while a sign next to him read: “I’m not a virus. I’m a human. Free me from prejudice.”

A 63-year-old entrepreneur tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, on February 25.

The man’s businesses were located in Asia, and he had returned from a trip to Singapore and the Phillippines in January, according to Italian media outlets.

As of March 13, Florence alone had recorded 100 coronavirus cases, according to Italy Department of Civil Protection data.

“Too much politics in Italy”

A prominent Italian doctor and virologist told CNN last week that fear of being called racist led to the severity of Italy’s coronavirus crisis.

“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.

“It did come from China”

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.

“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: Citizens Petition Congress to Change the Official Name of the Coronavirus to ‘Kung Flu’

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

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