My Visit To Milan Chinatown Amid Coronavirus Fears

Coronavirus has been terrorizing the world. The Italian-Chinese community is no exception.

Coronavirus Milan Chinatown
Di Stefano1111Opera propria, CC BY-SA 3.0, Collegamento – Edits by Italics Magazine

Coronavirus has been terrorizing the world. The Italian-Chinese community is no exception.

The beginning of the year saw fear creep into us, as the virus globally known as “coronavirus” — first discovered among humans in Wuhan, China — is spreading across the world.

Italy, as other non-Asian countries, had its few cases of infected people, due to travellers coming from China before any security measures were taken. This has led to a general sense of fear. However, we shouldn’t panic.

Let’s look at some facts: first of all, the term coronavirus actually refers to a single group of viruses, first identified in the 1960s, known to cause from simple symptoms such as cold or flu, to more dangerous ones as the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). In this group, seven directly affect humans, others only animals.

The virus recently discovered is the newest coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. It is not as dangerous as the SARS, and its symptoms are cold, flu, and breathing difficulties. Fortunately, it is rarely fatal. In Italy, albeit there is still no specific treatment, the situation is under control and all cases are treated as any severe case of flu. The difference can be found out only through specific laboratory tests carried out in equipped hospitals.

The coronavirus can be transmitted through saliva, direct contact and exchange of bodily fluids, or at the touch of unwashed hands near the mouth, nose, or eyes. Cases in the previous years had originated from different species of animals. For now, experts certify that it is safe for domestic animals, that you must remain isolated if infected up to at most 14 days, and that the virus can be killed in its prime life, if we take extra care of our personal and environmental hygiene.

A few days ago Italy blocked all flights coming and going to China, including Hong Kong and Macao, and Taiwan. Although the symptoms do not look dangerous, only in China there have been over 60 thousand declared cases, with 1.363 deaths. In Europe, the numbers of infected people have kept low — counting 1 or 2 per European country, with Italy recording 3.

Milan Chinatown

As I visited Milan’s Chinatown — made up mainly of a long road in the center of the city, Via Paolo Sarpi — I wanted to interview some business owners and see if an actual raising number of discrimination occurrences and any particular changes had been observed, or even what the general feeling about this issue was. An hour and half later — and over 20 shops, cafes and clothing stores selected among those least crowded, I had gained nothing.

Most probably, the fact that I do not speak Mandarin and that I do not have Asian facial traits might have not helped, especially considering the palpable tension. Surely, I believe that, either way, it didn’t really matter, as people seemed genuinely afraid and reluctant to talk about it.

Some told me they did not speak Italian, others that their boss was not around, others politely told me to leave. The owner of a clothing store even came out from the back with a trembling lip, after I had explained the employee why I had entered, and told me that she was not open to answer to any question.

A younger employee did not even let me finish talking, that he started nodding negatively and proceeded to keep quiet without saying a single word as he stared, until I left unaware what to do. All of this, even after I reassured them that a personal thought was all I was looking for. They were, however, unopen to speak at all.

Can we blame them?

Recently, there have been a number of racism cases against Chinese — or erroneously other Asian-looking people, since ignorance sees no differences. Chinese tourists were attacked in Venice; a family — who had not travelled to China and were resident in Turin — were physically attacked; a Chinese girl was asked to get off the bus she was riding; and another family in Rome was verbally abused by a group of teenagers. In the latter case, passersby defended the family, considering also that among the victims there were a couple minors and a pregnant woman.

Yang Dixi, a legal consultant for the local Chinese Associations, declared that he feared this might happen, due to the spread of the coronavirus. Yet, he was surprised, since Romans have always been welcoming towards Chinese citizens.

Statements from Rome and Beijing

Therefore, I resorted to a friend born in Brescia and raised in Rome from a Chinese family, to provide some insight. She, who wishes to remain anonymous, told me that she does not feel safe as she walks around the city. She has experienced people in the underground moving far from her, or placing their hands on their mouths as she walked by. Or even teenagers who would stare, point, and laugh.

“Chinese people are scared. We’ve been told to avoid crowds and lower our contact with people who have returned from China.” Interestingly enough, something that we may not be realizing is that, as Ms. Huang states, “I have a friend who returned to California and she is risking losing her job because of the virus, although she has undergone all the necessary check-ups. What is happening is not easy on nobody. Many have also family in Wuhan.” The epicenter city in Hubei province is under lockdown with nobody being allowed to leave.

An Italian Master’s student in Directing at the Beijing Film Academy, Alessandro Ceschi, stated the following:

“Starting from January 29, as residents of the Beijing Film Academy’s international students’ dorms, we have been asked not to leave campus anymore — an application has to be submitted if one wants to do so. International students are still free to reach the airport and fly off somewhere else. This measure is just meant to avoid unnecessary movements within the city. Since the school is on holiday for the Chinese New Year, and many international students went back to their home countries, there is only about 25 of us still living here at the moment. Every morning around ten, we go to the dorms’s front desk at the ground floor to have our body temperatures checked. On campus, there’s still a cafeteria open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Through delivery services, we are able to buy take out meals, or groceries to make food ourselves. When exactly this lock down status is going to end is not clear — it will be in place until further notice. Personally, I can feel the inconvenience, but until nothing else comes up, isolation remains the only preventive treatment to the coronavirus.”

Objectivity is key

The coronavirus is not to be taken lightly and surely, as the advice on the Italian governmental website suggests, there are precautions to be taken, especially for those who travel.

Quite paradoxically, we should take this virus as an example when we think that the virus does not spare anyone. Race is not a thing for the virus. Similarly, we should realize that the virus left China, but it does mean that a Chinese person has it necessarily. Anyone who has travelled from Asian countries or has been infected asymptomatically, could represent a potential danger. So let’s focus again on facts and not fall into fear.

For those interested: Italian Official Ministry of Health’s Q&A

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