Emotions have been running rampant in Italy during the two-month long COVID-19 lockdown, resulting in sexist attacks and threats targeting Education Minister Lucia Azzolina, of the Five Star (M5S) Party in the Coalition Government, reports the BBC.
On 28 May, during question time in the Senate, Senator Giuseppe Moles lobbed a barrage of abuse at Azzolina, 37, who has been forced to contend with widespread frustration over the current situation in education generated by the coronavirus pandemic. Unlike some other countries, Italy has delayed reopening its schools until September.
"We've heard so much: school closing yes, school closing no; in April all students will be promoted, in May some students will fail; in September lessons can be half at school, half at home," said Moles.
The Senator, a member of Forza Italia Party, continued:
"I remind you minister that school requires credibility and seriousness. And credibility is like virginity: easy to lose, difficult to maintain, and impossible to recover."
While Lucia Azzolina, who now has police protection, did not immediately hit back at the senator, as her time has been spent working out measures to get Italy's students back into class, while ensuring adequate protection against COVID-19, senators in her Five Star party have demanded that Giuseppe Moles apologise.
Five Star Senator Barbara Floridia suggested that the senator’s comment comparing credibility to virginity was even more offensive due to having been made "in front of a woman, a minister, who has in recent days suffered every kind of attack and insult".
Senator Moles has since offered an apology for his remarks, claiming he was referring to the credibility of school and not being sexist.
Meanwhile, among those who attacked Azzolina on social media platforms was Vittorio De Prà, a math teacher at a secondary school in Ovada, Piedmont, northern Italy.
The man is currently facing possible suspension for sexist abuse, reported La Stampa.
Explaining his actions, the math teacher said that "shut up at home for some time, exasperated by this situation, I let myself go and wrote what everyone has read and rightly condemned.”
The man claimed he had been anxious over insufficient information about the state exams for high school, and reports of teachers having to be physically present for the tests.
Two other officials, a deputy health minister and a regional governor, have also been granted police protection of late, after receiving threats connected with coronavirus aid.
The deputy minister, Pierpaolo Sileri, is also in the Five Star movement, part of Italy's coalition government.
The governor of Lombardy region, which has been particularly hard hit by the health crisis, Attilio Fontana, was assigned a police guard after being threatened on social media, when graffiti in Milan labelled him a "murderer".
A member of Matteo Salvini's anti-immigration League, his Lombardy government has been fending off criticism for alleged failings in dealing with the coronavirus response, such as shortages of some medical equipment.
As Italy looks ahead towards the reopening of schools, a decree has been adopted by the Senate, including a raft of new hygiene rules suggested by a scientific expert panel.
Classrooms will be expected to provide for a one-metre social distancing rule, while masks for those aged over six will be compulsory.
School timetables will be staggered to ensure student numbers at a specific given time are limited.
Anyone with a temperature of above 37.5C will not be allowed into the classroom.