Coronavirus: Confusion and fear sweep through Italy amid lockdown

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A woman wears a mask in a Bologna market
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Italy has extended emergency coronavirus measures, including travel restrictions, to the entire country

In Bologna, people are struggling to come to terms with their strange new reality.

One woman, who runs a hotel near the Piazza Maggiore, with its grand Basilica, said she was confused by what the government is doing.

"One day they say one thing, and the next day they do just the opposite," she told the BBC. "One day they say we are in a terrible period, and the next day they say it is not so bad."

Her business, like so many in the tourist trade, has taken a big hit. This should be high season, but the hotels here are deserted.

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Fish monger Salvatore said Italy had "underestimated" coronavirus

Shops and cafes are still open, although customers and staff have to keep a safe distance from each other.

Salvatore, who runs a fish shop, said Italy had "underestimated the problem" of the coronavirus.

"In reality, it's a very important thing, there's a big fear of filling the hospitals and not being able to take care of everyone," he said.

"This is the big demand: we must leave our homes just to buy food to eat [and] to avoid contagion," he added. "After the decree, the Italian people have realised that we are in a serious moment, we have to be well behaved and follow the rules."

People still wander through the porticoed streets and sit out on the steps of the Basilica in the Piazza Maggiore.

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Many businesses have remained open around Italy despite a nationwide lockdown

But a bit farther north, in the town of Piacenza, which has had over 600 cases of coronavirus, things are much quieter. Locals who spoke to me via smartphone told me the streets are very quiet, apart from the sound of ambulance sirens.

Riccardo, a journalist, said he felt "a sense of, claustrophobia."

There's "a feeling of uncertainty and fear," he said, "because the pillars of your existence, the deep feeling you're living in an orderly society and protected by technology, are vanishing."

"You see depression, you see desperation, you see panic, you see also carelessness," he told me. "You even see the eternal Italian anarchy, people that don't want to follow rules by the government."

But it was not all grim, he said. "You also hear a lot of people taking this situation with a sense of humour, a lot of jokes, people trying to make things lighter."

Anna is a student from Piacenza, who studies at the University of Siena. Currently in Tuscany, she says her parents have advised her to stay away.

"It's strange to be forced to be away from home," she told me. "Coronavirus became real for us, as I think for many other people in this country, when it started to influence our daily routine."

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Restaurateur Maurizio said he is concerned how a dip in pay will affect his staff

"I think everybody should just try to be as responsible as possible and try to follow the measures and the restrictions," she added.

Back in Bologna, Maurizio, who owns a bar and restaurant, said he was very concerned about his business and his 10 employees.

"They have children, and perhaps in the next month, starting from now, salaries will be very small. It's a very, very difficult time," he said.

Benedetta, who works in the real estate business, admitted she was worried.

"I should have a little mask," she said with a nervous laugh. "Maybe I should buy it in a pharmacy. I'm worried because it is quiet in the city centre, quiet."