Coronavirus: Former Hamilton resident in Italy says people ‘keeping their distance’ during lockdown

With much of Italy under lockdown in the hopes of stopping the spread of COVID-19 across Europe’s most affected country, Hamilton-born Tonia Szkurhan says she’s trying as much as she can to have a normal life in Rome.

“I’ve been trying as much as I can just to kind of keep normal and live life and not live in fear and panic,” said Szkurhan, who says the last time she was on the street in the city’s core was Sunday.

“We went out to Piazza di Spagna and Via del Corso, which is a major shopping area, and it was deserted. Nobody was there. Nobody in shops.”

Szkurhan, born and raised in Hamilton, moved to Rome in the spring of 2013 after a time earning a musical theatre degree in London, England.

The singer and actress was only supposed to stay in Italy for a few months, but says she found the love of her life and has been living there ever since.

“As my mother was born in Italy, I wanted to learn the language, get to know my relatives and experience the culture first hand,” said Szkurhan.

“Things just naturally evolved. I started singing and had lots of incredible opportunities.”

Szkurhan says the first signs of a potential full-on shutdown in Rome began last Wednesday when she noticed gradual closures which included schools and universities followed by the closing of discos, cinemas and theatres on Thursday.

The country is reporting just under 9,500 confirmed cases and 631 deaths as of Monday afternoon, which has put the national health system under massive strain, according to Italy’s Ministry of Health.

With that, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte took the unheard-of action of ordering nationwide restrictions on movement in Italy on Monday. The response extends an earlier constraint that limited movement from region to region in the north of the country.

All restaurants and bars will now have to close at 6 p.m., however, public transport continues to operate as normal throughout Italy.

Travel bans are now being enforced by domestic police who are also patrolling cafes to make sure owners are keeping customers a metre apart.

An English language teacher with British institutes and professional singer, Szkurhan says she’s feeling it with her teaching job being put on hold and a number of paid performances nixed in light of the outbreak.

“I had two major job concerts, both cancelled. I’m assuming all my performances in April will be cancelled, too. I had a children’s Disney show planned at the beginning of May at a theatre, cancelled.”


Szkurhan says there hasn’t been any signs of hoarding groceries and medical supplies since her last venture with boyfriend Marco Diomede to get supplies on Monday morning. Generally, she says, people have been “keeping their spacing” and being “respectful” of everyone’s needs.

“We went to the grocery store this morning. There was a line outside. Everyone was keeping their distance,” she said.

“We’ve been asked to keep a one-metre distance from people that you don’t know. It was kind of a one in, one out policy.”

Sabrina Fantauzzi, an Italian journalist working with the Vice President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, is one of many Italians working from home after the government ordered restrictions.

Fantauzzi, who works with the country’s parliament in Rome, told Global News that there was some fear amongst politicians in the capital since many come into work from other regions of the country.

“They were actually worried,” said Fantauzzi. “They were really wondering how could they continue to come to Rome because they were coming from the red area.”

Since the expansion of the restrictions, she says most deputies have decided to remain in their regions for the foreseeable future.

Fantauzzi goes on to say that the government’s restrictions are expected to be lifted in April.

“Mr. Conte, our president of government, stopped activities until the fourth of April. My sons, they don’t go to school until the fourth of April. We can’t go into other cities until the fourth.”

Meanwhile, Szkurhan admitted she and her boyfriend did have moments of anxiety upon news of the lockdown on Monday.

“Yesterday I kind of broke down a little bit and cried,” she said after seeing how few people there were on the big city streets.

“I’m trying to be calm. I’m trying to think rationally all the time, just trying to breathe and not let it affect me and hoping that come the spring we can recover and I will be singing more than I am now.”

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