Embarrassing Bodies star Dr Christian Jessen has said Italian people are using the coronavirus outbreak as an excuse to have a “long siesta”, while acknowledging his comments are “a little bit racist”.
The death toll from Italy’s coronavirus outbreak passed 1,000 on Thursday (12 March). The entire country remains paralysed, with non-essential shops and businesses closed, and yesterday, Rome’s Catholic churches were ordered to close due to the pandemic – a move believed to be unprecedented in modern times.
During an interview on FUBAR Radio’s Access All Areas about the outbreak, Jessen said: “This might be a little bit racist to say this, [and] you’ll have to make apologies, but do you not think it’s a bit of an excuse?
“The Italians, any old excuse to, you know, shut down everything and stop work for a bit and have a long siesta.”
When asked whether he agreed with Boris Johnson’s decisions to delay closing schools, Jessen said: “I do agree with him actually. I think it’s an epidemic lived out more in the press than in reality.
“I mean if you think about flu right, without getting too heavy, flu kills thousands every single year.”
When told by host Stephen Leng that 10 people have now died in the UK from coronavirus, Jessen added: “Now I know that’s tragic for those involved but it’s not exactly huge numbers is it compared to flu, which is thousands.
“It doesn’t affect mothers, it doesn’t affect pregnant women, it doesn’t affect children so far as we know. So why this massive panic?
“This is like a bad cold really, let’s be honest.”
When asked if the press were scare mongering, he answered: “Totally. Totally. I think it’s a Daily Mail epidemic. I don’t think it’s a – it’s a real epidemic. Well, it’s obviously a real epidemic, but I think we are more worried than we need to be.
“Now I might have to eat my words and I really hope I don’t!”
Since the coronavirus outbreak, there has been a rise in racism and xenophobia. Earlier this week, a photo of a Dutch students wearing Chinese traditional costumes and conical hats while posing with a sign reading "Corona Time" sparked fierce backlash from east Asians after being posted on social media.
A coronavirus-themed advert showing a cartoon mattress wearing a surgical mask alongside the words “no nasty imports” has also been banned for racist overtones.
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