Stay or go? Tough call for Chinese in Italy as coronavirus crisis hits.


Wenzhou and Rome may be 9,300km (5,800 miles) apart but public anxiety about the coronavirus is the same in both places.

This is especially true for the thousands of businesspeople from the eastern Chinese coastal city, who have moved to the Italian capital in the last few decades and established one of the biggest Chinese communities in the country.

About 100,000 people from Wenzhou, and another 100,000 from nearby Qingtian county, live in Italy, according to official Chinese data, with Milan also hosting a sizable Chinese community.But many are considering their short and long-term future as Italy reels from the coronavirus epidemic, which has killed more than 100 people and infected roughly 3,100 in the European country.

Wu Yue, a businessman from Fujian province who has lived in Rome for 20 years, said many Chinese in Italy were anxious and wondering if they should return home.

“We definitely feel safer in China. The government is more efficient … Hospitals here can treat patients well, but the government’s ability to respond to an emergency is not ideal,” Wu said.

Business is deteriorating in the euro zone’s third-biggest economy as the government tries to curb the spread of the coronavirus by shutting down schools and universities across the country and sealing off a dozen towns in northern Italy.

Italy has acted faster than other European countries in introducing public health measures, such as stopping all flights to and from China, although that was not fast enough to prevent the virus from reaching Italy.

On Wednesday, a study conducted by the University of Milan and Sacco Hospital confirmed that the coronavirus had been circulating in Italy several weeks before it first was detected there.

Despite the flight ban, which China urged Italy to lift, it is still possible for Chinese tourists and businesspeople to return to China, by flying first to other European or international airports, and taking routes onward from there.

Wu said he heard that some Chinese had chartered flights back to China or transited through Russia or Finland.

“I thought about sending my wife and kids back, but I decided against it because of the risk [of being infected] during the 17-hour journey,” he said.

A Chinese student in Milan, who would only give her surname as Liang, said many of her fellow students had returned to China, but she decided to stay.

“I am lucky as I work part-time in a professional field, so I still get paid,” she said. “But some of my classmates work in restaurants that can’t keep them on because business is bad, so they just went home for the time being.”

For those who did go back to China, the next question is when to return to Italy.

Chen Guangzhen has been stuck in Yongjia county in Wenzhou since he returned to China in December.

When the number of new coronavirus cases finally levelled off in Wenzhou, one of the worst-hit Chinese cities outside the epicentre of Hubei province, Chen prepared to return to Italy to run his grocery store near Rome.

Then things started worsening in Italy, forcing him to postpone his return again.

“I had booked a flight back on Sunday, but now I have to cancel it,” he said.

“As far as I know none of the Yongjia people in Italy have returned [to China] recently. We’re now encouraging them not to come back. After all, it’s riskier on the road than staying at home.”

A bigger fear for the Chinese diaspora, though, is whether they still feel welcome amid sporadic racist incidents and remarks as some in Italy see China as the source of their suffering.

Luca Zaia, governor of the Veneto region – one of the three hardest-hit areas of northern Italy – was forced to apologise after he said on television last month that “it is a cultural fact that China has paid a big price for this epidemic because we have seen them all eat mice live or things like that”.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.