Sunday 05 April 2020

Foreign ministry advises travellers to Italy to ‘be alert’ after Covid-19 outbreak

Photo: DutchNews.nl

The Dutch foreign ministry has advised travellers to Italy to be ‘extra alert’ after an outbreak of Covid-19 in the country, but says there is no need to cancel plans.

Six people have died and around 200 have been diagnosed, mostly in the Lombardy region that includes Milan, after the first cases were reported last week. All the fatalities have been elderly or had underlying health conditions that made them vulnerable.

Austria closed its rail line to Italy for around four hours overnight after two possible cases were identified on board a train heading towards Munich. The passengers were taken off the train in Verona and have since tested negative for the virus.

The German foreign ministry has organised a conference call between all 27 EU countries to discuss the response to Covid-19, also known as coronavirus. Cases have been detected in Germany, France, Spain, Belgium, Sweden and Finland, as well as the UK.

The Dutch foreign ministry said travellers to Italy could expect extra border checks and local restrictions on travel to infected areas. Large public events and public institutions such as museums have been temporarily closed.

‘Inform yourself about your destination before you travel and follow the instructions of local authorities,’ the ministry said in an update to its official advice on Sunday.

Blok in Iran

The ministry also denied reports on social media that foreign minister Stef Blok had exposed himself to the virus when he met Iranian officials during an official visit to the region last week. Officially 12 people in Iran have died and 61 are known to be infected, though other media reports have put the death toll as high as 50.

‘As far as we know there has been no direct contact with anybody who was infected with the virus,’ said a spokeswoman for the ministry.

A secondary school in Assen, Drenthe, said it had postponed an exchange visit to Italy which was due to depart on Monday. Five staff members and 37 pupils were due to go on the trip to Santa Marinella and Cerveteri in central Italy.

‘There is a lot of disappointment among our pupils, but also relief,’ an unnamed teacher told RTV Drenthe. ‘A number of pupils were worried they would be infected with coronavirus’.

Discrimination

Meanwhile, reports have continued to emerge of Chinese nationals and people of East Asian appearance in the Netherlands experiencing discrimination and abuse related to the coronavirus.

A student named as Cindy said she had been attacked with a knife when she challenged a group of men singing a song originally broadcast on Radio 10 in a lift in a block of flats in Tilburg.

The men became aggressive when she objected to the song, titled ‘Voorkomen is beter dan Chinezen’ (prevention is better than Chinese), on Saturday night, she told Hart van Nederland. ‘Luckily they didn’t really stab me, but I have cuts in my neck and chest. And I hit my head so hard that I lost consciousness and have concussion.’

Melissa Krassenstein, who lives in Utrecht, told DutchNews she was targeted while queuing for chips at a snackbar on a night out two weeks ago.

‘I was about to get in line and I asked a man who was half in the line if he was waiting to be served. His first response was to cover his face and say to his friends: “Watch out, she’s going to give us corona.”‘

Melissa, 25, said she was singled out from her group of friends as the only person with an East Asian appearance. ‘I went over and told him why what he said was tasteless, hurtful and that it is racist to assume that someone who looks like me has coronavirus.

‘Pretty quickly other people came over and stepped in to speak to the guy. A lot of them were first or second generation Dutch, but there were also a couple of white Dutch people. They told him to come over and apologise to me. He didn’t say sorry, but he did ask if I was OK before he went away.

‘I’m glad I spoke up because in my experience, Chinese students studying overseas are often taught not to be confrontational. I’ve seen videos of others being targeted since corona broke out who just kept their heads down. I’m someone who’s quite outspoken and learned we all need to speak up to prevent other people getting targeted.’

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