Jul 1, 2020
Interviews & Inspiration | Lauranne Heres
Since I’m your resident travel writer, it was obvious that when it came to more Covid-19 info, I was going to bring you a story with international flair. As the world slowly emerges from lockdown (and parts go back in, as cases surge again in certain places), we take a look at how measures have varied immensely from one country to the other, and even regionally. Here are a few (well, more than a few) people from various countries, telling you about their experiences during these testing times. A big thanks to my Mum for helping me get people!
First instalment of 'Lockdown around the world' – Europe
Catarina, 27 lives in Lisbon, Portugal
She’s in a two-bedroom apartment with a tiny terrace, easy access to the outdoors (near the Tagus river, city gardens and not too far from the beach). She has no children and is in a long-term relationship that has been long-distance since she moved back to Portugal after her studies. Luckily, her partner has been able to get one of the last flights out to Portugal before things got bad in the UK, so he’s been living with her ever since. “I’m a journalist. I can work remotely but only occasionally as my job revolves around conducting interviews, going to press conferences, and doing stories outside. I have been working at the newsroom since Portugal declared a lockdown on March 18. It has since been lifted.” Her partner is a software developer and has been working remote.
“The government’s lockdown plans urged people to stay indoors and shut most non-essential businesses. People were allowed out of the house to buy essential goods, such as food and medication. The government introduced an exit plan on May 4th, which is opening different sectors of the economy every 15 days. Restaurants, for instance, are now open but under strict capacity restrictions.” As a journalist she had special permission to move around during the lockdown as long as she was doing it for work reasons. The hardest bit has been not being able to see her grandparents as they are in the “at risk” group. She also misses doing interviews without masks on, as it makes it harder to breathe! As measures have eased she has started to see friends/family at least once a week. “On Saturday I met with some friends and we had a few drinks outside. It felt good after so long.”
Regarding the government’s reaction to the pandemic, she says: ‘They put measures in place way before most countries - and it looks like it worked, at least for now. Portugal only reported 29,432 confirmed cases and 1,247 deaths, far below neighbouring Spain. It only had around 642 confirmed cases and two deaths from coronavirus when the lockdown was declared. Even before that, the government closed all schools and nightclubs, banned gatherings of large groups, suspended flights to Italy and halted tourism with Spain. Spain reported the first death on March 3 but only imposed the lockdown 11 days later. It took France even longer. The first death was reported on Feb. 15 but a lockdown to slow the spread of the disease was only imposed on March 17. The way the government dealt with the social and economic impact of the crisis is a different story, and it will take longer to evaluate. But the economy will suffer - that’s certain”. And how does she feel about the end of lockdown now that it’s slowly happening? “The economy wouldn’t survive much longer if services remained shut. A public health crisis kills but so does unemployment. I hope the lockdown exit plan continues to be implemented (very) slowly and gradually, and that people don’t get over excited and flock to beaches. Though the end of lockdown was needed, social distancing and other safety measures are crucial if we want to continue to contain the spread of the disease.”
Malin Eriksson, 32, lives in Gothenburg, Sweden
Malin lives in a 39 square metre apartment (to the brits the equivalent of a studio flat) in Gothenburg, Sweden about a 15 minute bike or tram ride from the city centre. “I am not limited to my apartment as Sweden has not adopted confinement under the age of 70. I also happen to live just next to one of Gothenburg’s close to town, much loved and frequented natural reserves which I, like many others, have been venturing vigorously into during these past months.” While she is in a long-term relationship, they do not currently live together. Malin is a civil servant and can work from home. The rules that were given were to stay at home if you feel unwell, even if you only feel that you have a tiny cold; to wash your hands often at least for 20 seconds; to keep your distance to others both indoors, outdoors and in public transport, at the gym etc. and don’t use the changing rooms in connection to sports; to avoid social gatherings such as parties, weddings, christenings and funerals; try to avoid travelling during rush hour, only travel if necessary. Persons that are 70 years old or older should limit their social contact and avoid places where people gather.
“The fact that you become more isolated and sit at home lacking other human interaction IRL, except for the family you live with, means that you sooner or later start “climbing the walls” as the Swedes say. While I have no problem being on my own, even I start to feel the deprivation of other human beings. I have been most fortunate as I’ve had the opportunity to a) stay with my partner, b) have unlimited access to the great outdoors (which both have kept me sane) and c) I could actually go into work/see other people if I wanted to, apart from when I had a cold”.
She explained that Swedes in general are unconsciously very conscious of their personal space to begin with so keeping the distance should not in theory be that hard. But the less you know a person the more space you leave them. Also, Sweden has a much calmer than the rest of Europe, there is trust that the State will take care of its people and the Swedes themselves like structure and order. Thus, Swedes are quite law abiding which means that they like and accept the guidance from authorities. “It has been almost 5 weeks since I saw my sister, but I met up with friends during the weekend.” Stores have special hours for the elderly when they are advised to shop, there are stripes on the floor when you queue. The front part of the buses has been closed for access to protect the drivers. “I miss not thinking about the fact that every single second I am not at home I am at risk of getting sick. But hey, we’re all going to die anyway!”
Mirella, 55, lives in Avezzano, Italy
She is in a town house (the US meaning of the word) on three floors, but with no garden or yard. She is married with a son (19, still in school and living at home. She’s a translator, so nothing really changed for her. Her husband works in IT and worked from home occasionally even before the pandemic. “We had a very strict nationwide lockdown for over two months, with schools, shops and factories closed (except those deemed “essential”). We were only allowed to go out for grocery shopping, work (for those still working on-site) or to buy medicine. In most grocery shops masks and gloves were mandatory; we queued outside so that there would never be too many people inside the shop at the same time. When going out, we had to have a certificate with us, stating the reason we were outside. No gatherings of any sort, no mass, no funerals. No travel allowed, except for a valid work - or family related reason. We never experienced shortage of food (except – weirdly enough - yeast, as apparently everybody spent their time baking!), but masks and hand sanitizer were really hard to come by (we bought some online, from China).” She found lockdown easier than expected – but then again, she was used to work from home.
“What struck me most was the silence outside. I live in a quiet part of town, but I had never realized how “noisy” that pre-lockdown quietness actually was.” She last saw her mother and brothers at Christmas. They live in the same region, but some 150 km away. Her in-laws live in Sicily and she hasn’t seen them for months. “My son and his friends have been surprisingly responsible. As far as I know, none of them ever violated the lockdown. They have spent hours and hours online, sometimes studying or attending lessons, sometimes playing, sometimes just hanging out. My son has “esami di maturità” (secondary-school final exams) in June and we still don’t know how that will pan out. There is a risk that that too will have to be done online, although the Minister is pressing to have the schools ready to re-open for the exams. It saddens me that he has missed a part of his life that he will never get back – time with his friends, with his girlfriend. Class trips, sports, end-of-school year pictures…”
While she was not a fan of the current government before the pandemic, she thinks that, all things considered, they handled the situation as best as they could. Many people were worried about the unprecedented suppression of constitutional rights and the risk of an authoritarian drift, particularly because the rules weren’t always very clear and the police had much leeway in interpreting them, but the cases of abuse seem to have been few and far between. “What should have been handled better is the whole testing/tracing thing. Access to testing is still grossly insufficient.”
She’s partly relieved and partly scared about the end of lockdown. “I don’t think life will ever be the same. At least not for a long time. I miss the innocence. Being able to hug and kiss people without for a moment thinking it could be dangerous. Not flinching when you see large gatherings of people in a movie. Not having to wear a mask to go outside. Knowing you could hop on a plane on a whim and fly wherever you wanted. Being physically close to strangers – something I used to dislike. This lockdown made me realize that I’m a much more social person than I thought I was.”
Wolke, 31, lives in Duisburg, Germany
She lives with her boyfriend in a flat that’s 75m2 with a balcony. She works in administration for the local university and has been able to do so from home, which works pretty well. They’re talking about bringing people back to the office for a few days, alternating between teams. Since mid-March, Germany has been on a kind of lockdown, only supermarkets, GP surgeries, pharmacies etc. are allowed to be open. You are allowed to be outside with people of your own household plus one other person. Either way you have to keep your distance from others. “If I’m perfectly honest, I haven’t found it very difficult so far. I do miss seeing my colleagues every day, and the ability to see friends and family as you normally would. I haven’t seen them since March. But otherwise I have started a bunch of new hobbies, including teaching myself the guitar, trying to learn Japanese and reading more.”
She thinks the government has handled the situation well. Virologists and other specialists were called in to discuss measures and the best way of handling things. “I’m slightly worried that with the easing there might be a new rise in cases. While I miss going to the cinema or concerts, it seems slightly foolish to leave every region to decide for themselves how they want to proceed.”
Fanny, lives in Lyon, France
Fanny, a thirty-something mother of two lives in Lyon, France, with her husband. They share a town house which is around 80m2 with a terrace. “I left my work as an in-house counsel just before lockdown and I am trying to launch a new business as an English Teacher from home.” Lockdown has been quite strict in France with people unable to go out except for grocery shopping and medical reasons. Some exceptions are added if you help people in need, or some work areas like healthcare. “We are also allowed physical activity within a 1km (0,4 miles) radius of our home, 1 hour a day. We have to carry with us a paper certifying the reason in case of a police control. We cannot ta except for work or health reasons.” While lockdown rules have not been hard to follow, they have been hard to bear. She saw her sister fairly recently since she is an at-risk person because of a medical condition and needs help, otherwise no one since March 13th.
“Since our kids are young, they actually appreciate having us at home. It is rare for us to have the time to let go, and not schedule everything. We have been able to do loads of crafting, and even some preschool things. However, it has been a bit difficult to handle everyone’s emotions and stress though. Not being able to let the big one (only 3) play with the neighbours or go to the grandparents has put a lot of pressure on the whole family. We cannot go to parks in order to play. The only thing is the walks, in the streets, with a “don’t touch anything” policy.” Fanny thinks the government has handled the situation quite ok considering the circumstances. She was surprised to find they did not have enough masks or other needed items stashed away (her mum is an O.R. nurse), though it was clearly not just the current government’s decision. When it comes to the end of restrictions, she feels it should be treated carefully. “But I am so happy I’ll be able to go outside the city, in the forest or countryside. I would also say I miss unawareness. We cannot go back to not knowing. We thought a few changes might be enough. Now we are certain our way of living MUST change now, and it is quite scary.”
*Please note some of these collections are at least one/two months old, so things might already have changed for them.