Luca Zaia is the governor of Veneto, Italy, a role which is usually expected to speak with a certain degree of professionalism.
Zaia seemed to have forgotten that, however, when he suggested that the novel coronavirus was caused by Chinese people eating live mice.
Speaking with a local television station, Zaia said:
"The hygiene that our people, the Venetians and the Italian citizens have, the cultural training we have, is that of taking a shower, of washing, of washing one's hands often."
"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."
Luca Zaia (Lega), Governor of the Veneto Region, one of those affected by the coronavirus outbreak in Italy, speaki… https://t.co/Rb2lnKr7ig— Nicholas Whithorn (@Nicholas Whithorn) 1582921474.0
The Chinese embassy in Rome quickly shot back at Zaia.
"At a crucial time like this, when China and Italy stand side-by-side to deal with the epidemic, an Italian politician has spared no slander about the Chinese people. This is a gratuitous attack that leaves us stunned."
It's worth noting that Italy is now the second-most affected country by the coronavirus, with 21 deaths. Veneto also happens to be one of the most affected areas in the Italian peninsula.
Zaia later apologized for his comments to the Corriere della Sera newspaper.
"My words came out badly, I agree. If anyone was offended, I am sorry. I wanted to say that when it comes to food health and safety, controls change from country to country."
Despite the apology, Twitter was not in a terribly forgiving mood toward Zaia.
This man @zaiapresidente is a racist even with the people of southern Italy, he does not represent the thought of a… https://t.co/wXkNnUUcGj— Mi_consento (@Mi_consento) 1583062739.0
The #Coronavid19 seems to have made the worst side of Italy emerge. #lucazaia, president of Veneto region and promi… https://t.co/5RGAeEEXGs— Giulia Piccolino (@Giulia Piccolino) 1582987646.0
@newsfromitaly Speechless.— Abbie (@Abbie) 1582915768.0
@newsfromitaly I know quite a few Chinese, never seen any of them munching on live mice...— Rod in Holland (@Rod in Holland) 1582915736.0
Beyond Good and Evil. While the WHO praises Chinese people for their response to the crisis, sovereignist Italian p… https://t.co/sbuMQnEhYI— Fabrizio Zilibotti (@Fabrizio Zilibotti) 1582929547.0
Hopefully Luca Zaia is able to calm down enough to stop throwing around racially charged rhetoric and focus on protecting his citizens from illness.