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COVID-19 outbreak generates rash of jokes, swindlers in Italy

15:31 | 29/02/2020

"Problems can't be solved with sadness and fear," says the owner of a shop selling the Corona Cake - complete with crown-like spikes of the COVID-19 virus in Italy.

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At the Gelateria Infinito shop on the outskirts of Cremona, customers can get a "Corona Cake", which features the typical crown-like spikes of the COVID-19 virus. (Photo: Facebook/Andrea Schiroli)

Italy has the most coronavirus cases in Europe (650 cases) and highest death toll (17 deaths) but rather than succumb to fear, wisecracking Italians have opted to laugh in the face of danger with a slew of parodies, jokes and general silliness.

In the economic capital Milan, just 60km down the road from the main outbreak, bars have transformed "happy hour" into "aperitiviruses", where aperitifs and snacks can be bought at a discount.

At the Gelateria Infinito shop on the outskirts of Cremona - another area of the Lombardy region reporting many cases - customers can get a "Corona Cake", which features the typical crown-like spikes of the COVID-19 virus.

"We know that this is a serious issue, but problems can't be solved with sadness and fear," owners Andrea Schirali and his wife Daniela told the Repubblica daily.

"The important thing is to follow instructions and stay calm. If we eat a good ice cream in the meantime, it certainly can't hurt," they said.

There's fun to be had even by those in obligatory isolation in red zones, with only their social media feeds for company.

Virus jokes have gone viral, and as per tradition, they target Italy's famous flaws, from its public transport to its mafia.

One gag shows a city mayor boasting that the metro's delays are actually helping keep his citizens safe, because "the waiting time is longer than the (14-day) incubation period!"

Worried residents in the north have been scrambling to get hold of face masks and disinfectant gels, leading to shortages in many pharmacies and supermarkets.

The less scrupulous have been quick to spy an opportunity to profit.

On Tuesday morning one vendor on Ebay was asking for no less than 300 euros (325 dollars) for a litre of disinfectant solution.

The equivalent product for babies was by comparison a bargain at a mere 240 euros.

The phenomenon has prompted a wave of jokes and memes on social media.

The jump in the gel's price on some internet marketplaces since the virus hit Italy prompted several joke adverts, with one offering to swap "five litres of Amuchina for a 2019 Audi RS5", a vehicle costing some 100,000 euros, adding: "If it's a 2016 model, throw in 65,000 euros."

Another has a drug dealer offering hashish or cocaine, but his client demands "Amuchina" - the most famous hand sanitiser gel in Italy.

The mafia's reputation for latching on to new trends is also a target for the online jokers.

One mock-up video shows a Naples mobster proposing to a fellow gangster that they switch from cocaine smuggling to Amuchina.

"Demand is skyrocketing for Amuchina, it's been nicknamed 'transparent gold', and colleagues in Honduras are transforming their labs to produce Amuchina," he says.

Fun has also been poked at measures put in place to prevent the virus from spreading, derided by some as draconian.

In one video doing the rounds an elderly woman sneezes. A second later, a special forces team breaks into her house through the door, window and roof.

Not all buffoonery has hit the mark. Police were investigating a man in northern Italy Thursday who had claimed on social media to have the virus and advised all those he knew to get tested - before finally admitting it had been a joke.

An even darker phenomenon has been thieves passing themselves off as Red Cross volunteers or members of the civil protection and health services.

Gaining access to people's homes on the pretext of testing them for contamination, they aim to steal money or jewellery.

The Red Cross and the civil protection agency have had to make clear that they are not going door-to-door to do any such checks and have called on Italians to be "careful" and to alert the police if confronted with the scam.

Then there are those offering so-called miracle cures.

"Certain homoeopathic or naturopathic products are offered on the internet with the claim that they can prevent coronavirus infections or cure them," Pier Luigi Lopalco, professor of hygiene and preventative medicine at the University of Pisa, told AFP.

"These products are not effective," he says, branding those offering them "charlatans"./.

VNF/AFP/Bangkok Post