Chinese tax free shopping in Italy holding up so far - Global Blue

ROME, Feb 1 (Reuters) - Tax free purchases by Chinese tourists in Italy increased slightly in the first week of China's New Year holidays from the same period last year, the Italian arm of the shopping tax refund company Global Blue said.

Chinese shoppers account for 35% of global luxury goods sales and European luxury stocks have slumped on fears the coronavirus epidemic could hit sales.

However Stefano Rizzi, Global Blue's Italian country manager, told Reuters data for Jan. 24-30 showed a "slight rise" compared to the same Chinese holiday period last year, which was the first week of February.

Rizzi stressed that it was impossible to forecast future sales with the situation regarding coronavirus and preventative measures taken by governments having changed in recent days.

"It's reasonable to suppose that the purchases were made in the days or weeks preceding the spread of the virus," Rizzi said.

The central province of Hubei, the centre of the epidemic, is under a virtual quarantine, with roads sealed off and public transport shut down. Elsewhere in China, authorities have placed restrictions on travel and business activity.

Several airlines have suspended direct flights to China.

(Reporting By Gavin Jones Editing by Clelia Oziel)