March 12 (UPI) -- South Korean students returning from Italy amid the global coronavirus outbreak say anti-Asian discrimination is worsening as Italy's death toll exceeded 800 on Thursday.
In Italy, where Chinese tourists have reportedly been spat on in hot spots like Venice even before the outbreak in Europe, South Korean students are reporting racial discrimination and a general environment of intolerance, according to South Korean newspaper JoongAng Ilbo.
Lee Hee-sol, 22, a South Korean student who returned home from Rome, said she decided to leave after Italy's COVID-19 cases topped 1,000. By Thursday, Italy was reporting more than 12,400 cases.
The pandemic began in China, but recently the Chinese government has been pointing fingers at other sources, while urging other nations to stop referring to the disease as the "China virus."
Meanwhile in countries with predominantly non-Asian populations, angry locals have been targeting Asians of all nationalities.
Last week, Jiye Seong-Yu, an ethnic Korean woman in the Netherlands, was almost punched while riding a bicycle. Her assailants, two men, had yelled out, "Chinese," according to Buzzfeed.
On Thursday, other South Korean students, including some who have elected to remain in Italy, said anti-Asian racism in the European country is worsening.
South Koreans and South Korean authorities have also stood by a policy of wearing face masks in public. Health authorities in other countries, including Italy, may be holding back from fully recommending the use of masks in public. The policy could be making South Koreans in Italy uneasy, according to the JoongAng.
In February, an ethnic Chinese man in northern Italy was attacked while refueling at a gas station not far from Venice, according to Il Messagero in February.
An assailant at a bar smashed a glass bottle in his face after the man, described as an Italian of Chinese descent, had asked the cashier to break down a bigger bill. Nobody defended the victim during or after the attack, according to the report.