This is a developing story. We will continue to update as the world changes. For the latest information on traveling during the coronavirus outbreak, visit the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.
As travelers, what affects the world abroad affects us—even when we’re back home and have stowed our suitcases for a while. And this week, perhaps more than ever, we’ve been checking in with friends around the world to see how they’re doing in the face of COVID-19.
From Sicily and Spain to Denmark and China, here’s how people on lockdown (and others potentially soon on their way to it) are feeling—and what they’re doing to keep carrying on during trying global times.
Delivered the week of April 20, 2020
Doug Morreale, U.S. citizen, 37, English teacher in Namyangju
As uncertainty and lockdown spread across the globe, life in Namyangju, South Korea, feels like an oasis of order and normalcy.
However, this has not always been the case. Less than two months ago, South Korea had the second highest number of active COVID-19 cases worldwide. Friends and family in the United States worried and suggested I return home. I considered heeding the advice momentarily, as there had only been a couple dozen cases in the U.S. However, I had been remarkably impressed with Korea’s national response and confidently settled in.
Being a native Floridian experienced with preparing for hurricanes, I stocked up on canned goods, rice, water, and other essentials at our local supermarket. At the checkout, I paused, noticing I was the only shopper in “prepper” mode. Panic shopping was not a thing here. Everywhere I looked there was an abundance of food, water, and even toilet paper. The collective mindset of prioritizing the common good of the group meant there was enough to go around for everybody.
Frequent texts from local officials keeping us informed regarding new positive diagnoses in our region also helped put my mind at ease. With each new case, the (anonymous) patient’s travel history was uploaded to the region’s official website. With a few clicks, one could find which stores or areas to avoid. In addition, this helped to inform local business owners as to the severity of the spread in their area. Outside of nightclubs and gyms, few businesses in my area closed for more than a week.
Citizens did their part too. Masks became ubiquitous in public along with hand sanitizer. Public transport was less crowded and health officials have been vigorous in their efforts to contain the spread. Within a few weeks of peak outbreak, active case numbers dropped significantly. Local businesses suffered their lumps but most have persevered, discovering new ways to deliver goods and services. The firm, stoic response of the citizens and health officials started paying off and we were ready to return to our former daily lives.
Spring has arrived and cherry blossom season began. With the cool breeze and beautiful flowers, the people went outside en masse. My partner and I have taken long bike rides along the Han River toward Seoul. The riverbank was lined with camping tents as families sought time in the sun and fresh air. It felt like a celebration scene ripped right out of the end of a movie.
Besides the mild inconvenience of wearing a mask outdoors, life has returned to normal across Seoul and nearly all of South Korea. During the second week of April 2020, the nation had an average of 27 new active cases per day. Some days, more cases are diagnosed at the international airport than within the entire nation itself.
Meanwhile, my heart aches for my loved ones back in Florida who had once been concerned for my safety. I keep in touch with my mom who is home alone during all of this. Once a vaccine is developed or the situation improves, we plan to reunite in Seoul and show her all around the country.
Sheila Kuo, 30, Production Development Assistant Manager in the TV/film sector in Taipei
I definitely consider myself lucky to be living in Taiwan amidst the pandemic.
There has not been a strict lockdown here, even while social distancing is strongly advised. We just head down to the shops to buy essentials (with our masks on, of course) and still have the luxury of going to coffee shops, bars, and restaurants if we want to, although there are far fewer customers. Many restaurants that did not have delivery services have started to do so and food delivery vehicles are seen everywhere.
Temperature checks are required at the entry of every shop. Furthermore, it is also mandatory to have your temperature checked and wear a mask to enter the metro (MRT) station.
Work-wise, I work for an international company, and we were advised from as early as February that we could choose to work from home. Some of my colleagues live in Hong Kong and Shanghai and they have not been able to travel since after Chinese New Year, so we have been conducting a lot of remote meetings on Zoom or WeChat anyway. It does not seem weird, as this has always been how we communicate with colleagues around the world. However, I have not really heard about many other companies working from home in Taipei. Most companies still require their employees to be physically present in the office.
Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) holds daily press conference, and it has become a routine for Taiwanese to watch the live, streaming conference every day and learn new developments of the pandemic in the country.
I reckon we will have to live with the threat of the virus for the foreseeable future, and humanity will try to adapt accordingly. As of April 21, Taiwan reported 425 confirmed cases and six deaths. I think we have been managing quite well here, but it also worries me that people start to slack off. It’s going to be a long battle, so we all need to make sure to do our part and not take anything for granted. I have not seen my close friends for almost two months now and also haven’t visited my older relatives. But I am just grateful that I still have my loved ones around. I just hope we can all get through this together.
Delivered the week of April 13, 2020
Helen Butterworth, 44, Executive Project Manager in the charity sector in London
Living on lockdown is living in a state of dichotomy, the reported reality strangely dislocated from the eerie calm.
The UK is entering week four of lockdown and Covid-19 deaths are spiking to almost 1,000 per day. Footage of overwhelmed emergency wards and dedicated medical staff pushed to the brink through sheer exhaustion are accompanied by stoic World War II rhetoric from our Prime Minister (himself admitted to hospital with the virus) who is styling himself as a modern-day Winston Churchill. The mobilization of military personnel enabled London’s 4,000 bed Nightingale Hospital to be built in nine days and the largest financial support package in peacetime is (by no means perfectly) propping up the economy.
But looking out of my South London window at spring blossoms, hearing birdsong instead of jets on the flight path to Heathrow, and taking my daily run down the middle of streets usually gridlocked with traffic it’s hard to marry the headlines with my reality. Once the first week of worry about loved ones, head-spinning work stress, and a stifling feeling of caged-animal suppression had passed I reached a state of….if not calm, at least a profound sense of how lucky I am.
Small acts of kindness pepper the days. From the weekly clap for carers bringing even the stiffest-upper-lipped Brits to tears, to neighbors delivering groceries to the most vulnerable and elderly in their local communities. Rainbows painted by children decorate every other window in support of our beloved National Health Service and London’s theaters, gig venues, and galleries are throwing open their virtual doors for free to entertain, inspire, and fight the lockdown lethargy. The listings bible Time Out has rebranded as Time In, sharing hundreds of ingenious ways to enjoy the city we can no longer roam through.
I know that my privilege affords me the space to appreciate these moments of joy. The most vulnerable in Britain, already battered by years of austerity cuts, are affected worst by the crisis. Many are not in a position to access financial support and many rely on a charity sector which has seen incomes plummet in recent weeks. They will feel the repercussions long after lockdown is lifted. But if even a fraction of the kindness and solidarity shown during lockdown is carried forward we’ll be a nation more aware of the sum of our parts and a city more able to come together and tolerate our differences.
Jesús Hernández González, 41, taxi driver in San Miguel de Allende
What to say? San Miguel de Allende is a popular tourist town and now almost everything is closed. All the hotels have closed, most restaurants have closed except for a few offering take out. The artisanal markets, shops—all closed. The beautiful city parks are all closed off, too, so people won’t gather. There are very few people in the streets. For the foreigners who live here and didn’t leave, there’s nowhere for them to go. Everyone is staying home.
The situation for me as a taxi driver is very difficult right now. I started work at 8 a.m. today. I have the fee I pay to rent the car from my boss, then gas, then I have to spend a bit on my lunch. Today, I will be lucky if I make four dollars. The other day, I didn’t even make enough to cover the gas for the taxi. Luckily, my boss is being understanding at this time. He knows the situation is bad. I’m still out here looking for fares, but buses are arriving almost empty from other cities. I try not to drive around much so I can conserve fuel. I park in strategic places and hope someone will arrive. It’s stressful and hard not to feel desperate. I need to feed my family.
Jochem Westerhof, 49, Communications and Leadership Trainer in Utrecht
We don’t have a complete lockdown. We have what our Prime Minister calls an intelligent lockdown. That means we have to stay indoors as much as possible. But you can still go outside, as long as you keep a meter and a half distance and wash your hands well and regularly. If you have symptoms, stay indoors. It’s a bit like the 1970s, Sundays outside: quiet and peaceful. Except now we have daily reports of corona deaths along with it.
The Netherlands is a ridiculously well-organized country. And we are rich. So we have the luxury of being able to stay indoors. Almost everyone has fast internet, so homeschooling was arranged in two days. There is plenty of everything—food, drinks, toilet paper, and what not.
It is more difficult for young people to stick to the rules. I get it. It is inherent in youth to have contact with peers. And to rebel. Most small children also still play with other children. Although in much smaller groups of two or three kids.
Healthcare has ramped up intensive-care capacity at a truly incredible rate. There are enough beds and respirators. For now. What I really like is that our government is mainly guided by science and experts and does not seem to be aiming for electoral gain.
What I am really concerned about is the aftermath of the crisis. How many people will lose their jobs? How many companies will go bankrupt? What does this mean for long-term health, prosperity, and general well-being?
There are also nice sides to the crisis. It is finally clear what the really important professions are: doctors, nurses, garbage collectors, people stocking the supermarket shelves, teachers, truck drivers. I hope they will pay these people more after the crisis,
considering the value they add.
I realize that we—our family and our friends—are in the incredibly happy circumstance of living in such a rich and prosperous country, where people are no longer used to life bringing dangers.
I hope that this terrible misery, which really hits the poor in particular, will lead to a reappraisal of what it means to be human. That it leads to gratitude that Mother Earth still tolerates us. That we are going to do something to earn that tolerance. For all living things.
Gika Savitri, 25, Marketing Assistant in Canggu, Bali
I live in Canggu, Bali and there is no official lockdown where everyone must stay home. However, Indonesia is not giving out visas on arrival anymore to limit the number of people coming into the country. My partner and I have been self-isolating for almost a month now. I have the privilege to work from home but he has to shut down his family-owned boutique and now currently has to stay home. Since supermarkets are still open and well stocked and food deliveries are still operating, we are able to take care of ourselves as usual. Every time I do my grocery run, everyone is wearing face masks and taking precautions.
Even though social distancing is encouraged, a lot of people are still going to the beach, cafe or even throwing parties. Recently, the local security force, Pecalang, have been guarding the entrance to the beach. They’re appealing to cafes to be open for takeaway or limit their operation times to enforce social distancing even more. It feels a little bit weird every time I go to do my groceries because I have never seen Canggu quiet and free of traffic.
Delivered the week of April 6, 2020
Oskar Mowdy, 14, student in Anyksciai
My family and I came back to Lithuania from a trip to England in the middle of March, and we were expecting to have our temperatures checked or be told to self-isolate at the Vilnius airport as the headlines about COVID-19 in the newspapers had become alarming. None of that happened, though. Military personnel held signs saying that if you were coming from China or Italy you had to be tested. They let us through. So we went on with our daily lives more or less as usual. We hung out with family, and a few days later the government announced a quarantine. By then we had already socialized with quite a few people.
We bought a lot of food so we could stay at our homestead in the forest for a while and avoid social interaction. We have busied ourselves by planting trees and getting the garden ready as well as doing chores such as chopping wood and getting water from the spring. We watch movies in the evenings for entertainment, and as the days get warmer, I spend more and more time outside doing things like practicing trickshots with my bow and arrow. I also do music school online twice a week instead of the usual in-person classes. For my violin classes, we have to go to my grandma’s house in town because we don’t have internet in the forest. When we drive into town everyone is wearing masks or scarves over their faces.
We remain healthy and I even enjoy some aspects of the quarantine although I miss hanging out with my friends.
Rebecca Arendell Franks, 48, U.S. citizen, Director of Marketing, Admission and Communications at the Wuhan Yangtze International School in Wuhan
The past 11 weeks have been quite a ride for my family of three. When we ended our work and school day on January 17, we expected to have a relaxing Chinese New Year in Wuhan and return to work and school two weeks later. Chinese New Year was quiet, as usual; and because businesses normally close during that time, it was hard to distinguish whether life had slowed down because of the virus or because of the holiday. Once the city announced quarantine and then started closing roads, it became clear Wuhan was about to hunker down for something big. Over the course of the next 11 weeks, the world turned its focus on Wuhan and watched the city close, fake news ran rampant, death toll and infections climbed, and coronavirus stretched its deadly tentacles beyond China borders.
Though this time was a struggle in many ways, we have not only survived during coronavirus, we have thrived. My family and friends are healthy, which is a huge blessing. Thankfully, lockdown can’t shut down relationships; social media has kept us connected. We also have greater solidarity with our neighbors and the community around us. God has given us purpose in this virus: to encourage others to stay strong, look for the good in the situation, and share hope.
Life in some ways is returning to normal in Wuhan—many have gone back to work, and shops are beginning to open—yet people are still being cautious and the daily routine bears scars of the past three months. Residents are constantly required to show their health cards proving they have no virus symptoms, and temperature checks are mandatory at entry in almost every store or transportation post. Streets are still clear, and there’s a tentative vibe to the daily activity. The tentative will eventually give way to confidence, which will ultimately result in a new normal for the city of Wuhan.
Coronavirus has shown us how fragile life is. While the rest of the world is in a very active struggle with COVID-19, we in Wuhan are finally taking a long breath, enjoying a look toward the end while mourning the lives left in its wake. It’s too soon to let our guards down. Though relatively free, most of us aren’t going anywhere still, and the city is advising we stay home still as much as possible. Wuhanren (Wuhan people) are smart, resourceful, and resilient. When they feel it is time to emerge fully, they will. Life will eventually return to a new normal, but all in good time.
Lola Akinmade Åkerström, 41, author and travel photographer in Stockholm
It feels odd contributing to a roundup about lockdowns around the world when Sweden has yet to impose a clear cut lockdown. Based on guidelines from the Swedish Health Authority, the government has issued a series of recommendations to the general public. These include staying home if you feel ill and only leaving your house two days after you feel better. You can’t have gatherings of more than 50 people, you need to keep at least a 1-2 meter distance from other people, and overall, use your common sense while interacting socially.
This gives a glimpse into a culture which places heavy trust in its residents. Yet, for a society that also fosters self-reliance before reaching for help, this has proven challenging for us to wrap our minds around. While many people are naturally keeping social distancing—practiced way before the pandemic hit—others are still milling around town, patronizing restaurants and cafés, and continuing on with their lifestyles because they feel they don’t fall within any at risk groups.
While high schools and universities have moved to distance learning, kindergartens and elementary schools remain open. Even the ban on gatherings of 50 people seems at odds when elementary schools which often have hundreds of students. So we made the decision to keep both our kids home for now, because we’re not fully comfortable with the looser restrictions in Sweden at the moment. Even though children are least impacted, they are also carriers of the virus and many children, including my daughter, get temporary asthma when they have colds or the flu.
The number of deaths and infection cases keep rising everyday in Sweden (last count was 800+ and 9,200+ respectively) and our Nordic neighbors—Denmark, Norway, and Finland—are equally curious about this approach.
What’s extra fascinating is an additional sentiment bubbling beneath the surface in Sweden right now. One that’s unknowingly driving a wedge between those who fully support the restrictions and those who feel they could be much tighter. This has further spotlighted the term “Swedesplaining” which is when a Swede describes how things work in Sweden to someone of foreign descent and why they must not question it. It has been an interesting cultural dynamic to witness play out on a broader scale against the background of this serious pandemic.
Personally, my family and I have answered our own personal call as citizens and are taking extra measures by social distancing, keeping safe, staying indoors as much as we can, not eating out, and avoiding public transport.
Workwise, it’s been rather traumatic for me as a travel writer and photographer whose entire industry evaporated overnight.
Kareem Mortimer, 39, Film Director in Eleuthera
I live in Governor’s Harbour, on Eleuthera in the Bahamas with my partner and 2-year-old daughter. It’s a sparsely populated island 60 miles east of the capital, Nassau (on New Providence), where the majority of the commerce happens for the archipelago. I make weekly commutes to Nassau for work as my entire professional life exists there. I serve on the board of two production companies, curate for an independent theatre, and am also on the board of a film festival which was planned for late-March (we had to postpone).
I left Nassau on March 18 and, at that point, we had only one case of the virus in the country. But that evening two more cases were announced, bringing the number of cases to three. On March 19, the government instituted a nightly curfew and a shutdown of all non-essential businesses and on March 23, a 24-hour lockdown was enacted.
We can still go out grocery shopping but it’s organized by your last name and only at specific times. There’s only one designated shopper per household and I am not that shopper, so I am always home. We are lucky to live on a sparsely populated island. We don’t have a large house but we do have a large property that extends to the water.
I haven’t seen anyone who does not live in my house in person for a few weeks. I can zoom for work-related meetings but the likelihood of getting many things done is slim since I’m a 24-hour parent to our daughter who needs our attention from the moment she wakes up until she falls asleep. We go for long walks down to the beach, FaceTime relatives, and try to teach our daughter new things. We were able to potty train her on the first day.
Surprisingly, we have not been watching loads of television, only the updates by the Prime Minister of the country. It’s reassuring to us that our Prime Minister is a medical doctor, so we have faith in his choices. We’ve limited our consumption of news to twice a day which has helped me tremendously with Coronavirus anxiety. We are looking forward to the day this is over but taking this opportunity to spend quality time with each other.
Delivered the week of March 30, 2020
Sandy Mills, 50, Corporate Communications Specialist in Auckland
We were given notice that a lockdown was coming (it started Wednesday March 25, country-wide) and had a bit of time to physically and mentally prepare. Supermarkets remain open, and while we didn’t stockpile toilet paper or hand towels (we produce them here, why would we?), I will admit to buying enough Stoli to see out a good month, just in case.
Lockdown will be fine for me, but I’m luckier than many. My partner and I like each other. We live in a tiny, cozy cottage that we love at a wild west coast beach with lots of space to get fresh air and exercise while keeping an appropriate social distance from other locals. Jake can still surf. I can still take long walks on the beach or in the forest and not see another soul. We have a hot tub, a well-stocked book shelf, enough alcohol, and Netflix.
And I’m not afraid of a bit of TV. Make that a lot of TV (Sky TV turned on free movies for subscribers who don’t have it). We’re eating chocolate dipped in White Russians for dessert. We’re drinking a bit, make that a lot, but we don’t have kids so mild hangovers aren’t a problem. We’re sleeping in for the first time in years. If the weather turns, we’ll play chess or scrabble.
We are worried about Jake’s mum in Florida. She’s in her late 70s with underlying respiratory issues. We can’t believe she is not yet in a statewide lockdown. [Editor’s note: Florida’s governor has since issued a statewide lockdown order that went into effect at 12 a.m., April 3.) If she gets sick or worse, we wouldn’t be able to get there to be with her. That thought is unbearable. The USA back in business by Easter? Don’t get me started.
We feel extremely grateful to have a government that is acting to keep people safer, doing the right thing at the right time. Of course there will be impacts. Jake is a builder and won’t have work for at least a month. Thankfully, the New Zealand government is paying subsidies to those who cannot work during this time and the banks have agreed to mortgage holidays. Many of our friends will have their financial stability and status changed for who knows how long. But almost everyone I know says this is the right thing to do.
Maria Kvashenko, 40, Russian journalist living in Tbilisi
Tbilisi is the biggest city in Georgia, but the connections between people are still like in a small town—unlike in Moscow, where I’m from. For example, when I go to the shop to buy some fresh bread, I might ask the seller if she knows where I can buy a mask or sanitizer. She’ll say her daughter just bought it somewhere, and will then call her to get the address and phone number so I can call and get what I need.
Patient Zero entered Georgia from Iran in late February, so people are definitely concerned. Georgians have a mentality similar to Italians, and seeing the scale of the pandemic there really scared them. There’s a total lockdown in the country now, the government is being proactive and doing a great job. All of the country’s borders have been closed to everything but freight transport. All public transport is shut down in the cities and the countryside. There are checkpoints for personal cars arriving into the city, where people have their temperatures taken. There are very high fines for breaking the rules, both for individuals and organizations.
The National Tourism Administration has organized quarantine zones in 82 hotels across Georgia, where up to 5500 citizens are being placed. Tbilisi feels dead right now: Everyone who could has left for their villages.
Georgians have incredible respect for the elderly, and people are taking care of them and the homeless. There’s no shortage of hygiene products in the pharmacies and shops, but there are no masks and sanitizer. Local women are sewing linen masks for sale in local shops or through ads on Facebook.
Rather quickly, society moved into the phase of accepting the situation and moved towards trouble with dignity and their heads held high. In general, there are no tantrums being thrown and I’m unaware of cases of people trying to profit from the misfortune of others. People in general are very attentive to each other and, these days, trust the orders of the authorities (normally they don’t trust 100%). Georgian society is traditionally all about these interpersonal connections, and that’s especially valuable now. Nobody is able to predict what will happen to the economy here, but the country is persistent and courageous. This isn’t the first crisis Georgians have experienced.
Christopher Vourlias, 41, journalist in Athens
Fighter jets streaked over the Acropolis on Wednesday morning, March 25, on what was a dour and muted Independence Day in Greece. The usual parades and rites of remembrance were put on hold three days after the government introduced a nationwide lockdown because of a pandemic that’s so far claimed nearly two dozen Greek lives. In his message to the nation that morning, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said that Greeks would “parade our strength and unity” against this new, faceless enemy in our midst, asserting: “Only a united populace can overcome the hardships.”
I’m a Greek-American living in Athens, and in truth, I’ve felt much prouder of my adopted homeland’s response to the coronavirus pandemic so far than of my actual homeland’s. For the past two weeks, since the government began tightening the screws of our nationwide response, Greeks have largely seemed to take each new measure with a level-headedness that, if we’re being honest, as the son of a Greek immigrant, I’d never entirely associated with Greeks. The Darwinian savagery on display in Costco check-out lines across America? I’ve heard few reports of Greek hoarders panic-buying their way through quarantine, and my anecdotal, eyeball reporting has shown me nothing but orderly queues of patient, no-doubt terrified shoppers trying to fill their shopping carts and hurry home.
It’s a strange sight, for sure, to see my compatriots—back-slapping, shoulder-squeezing, cheek-kissing extroverts in normal times—keep a wary distance from one another. The agnostic in me cheered when the government took the almost unprecedented step of closing churches in this fiercely religious country, but I hadn’t spent much time calculating the costs, particularly for the older Greeks for whom church-going is as much a social as a spiritual balm. (Not that the Church has abandoned us to our fates: priests in the northern Peloponnese town of Aigio recently drove through the streets in a farmer’s pick-up truck, sprinkling holy water to protect the locals.)
On Wednesday morning, military choppers flew low over the rooftops of Athens, and church bells tolled across the city. My girlfriend, misty-eyed, held her quaking Maltese dog to her chest, telling me how proud she was of the country. For many Greeks, I imagine, the pandemic is being folded into a larger national narrative, another test of their—of our, I try to convince myself—resilience. The crisis took a terrible toll on this country, and we might still have to pay a price for that in the weeks and months ahead, as a healthcare system stretched thin by years of austerity buckles under the weight of this terrifying pandemic.
“From the beginning, we said we have to do this together, as Greeks,” my girlfriend said to me, as the helicopters buzzed by. “Reminding people what we’ve been through as a country keeps our spirits up.”
Meagan Patroni, 37, Communications and Marketing Manager for Youth Mental Health in Melbourne
After a traumatic summer of uncontrollable bush fires across our country, there’s now a feeling of fighting an invisible threat. Like in many developed countries, we’re hoarding toilet paper and canned goods—an attempt to ready ourselves for this war against germs.
While many Australians accepted new terms and practices like “social distancing,” many didn’t and continued to go to public places like Bondi Beach. Over the weekend there were 97 new case of COVID-19 in Bondi. This led the government to enforce a complete lockdown. In my state, 500 police have been tasked to enforce this. After much public pressure, schools have finally closed.
Following the recent announcement of a State of Emergency, my workplace took swift action by advising many staff to work from home. Staff who provide clinical care are either now doing online or home appointments (following extensive assessment), and using extra precautions and social distancing.
I am trying to see the silver lining in working from home. With no commute to work, I have two extra hours in the day for exercise. My one-bedroom apartment is now a workspace, yoga studio, karaoke club, dance hall, day spa, café, restaurant, bar, and cattery. I’m pretty sure it will grow old soon. For now, I’m privileged to have health, food, employment, and a safe space.
Junco Kawajiri, 49, stay at home mother in Tokyo
We are a bit outside downtown Tokyo and the crowds, so it’s easier here. We are safe and calm. I think we’ve gotten past the initial shock of the government closures. All the schools were closed for two weeks, but kids are slowly going back, grade by grade, to avoid crowding. Everybody was recommended to work from home. All of the museums and events are closed and cancelled. All of the toilet paper was sold out from stores for a while here, too.
Now kids are going back to school, there’s toilet paper again. I still see far fewer people on the train and on the streets downtown. All the stores and shops are still open in the city, though. Here in Tokyo, the cherry blossoms are starting to bloom. It’s warm and spring has come early this year. It’s our big party time under the trees full of blossoms. But this year the government is asking for no parties under the cherry blossoms. The virus troubles seem to be going on longer than we expected.
Vainilla Wen, 30, writer in Quannan
I spend much of my time traveling and working abroad, but decided to spend Chinese New Year with my family at home in China this year, so I came back to China at the end of November and planned to stay until the end of February. I’ve been here since then. At the beginning (around Jan. 24), the government just suggested we don’t leave our houses to visit friends, it was just suggestions. People were still going out. But by about the fourth day of Chinese New Year the country really took things very seriously.
After that, every family could only go every two days to buy supplies. But there was never any food shortage of supply problem, never any chaos at all. It was depressing to see the roads and shops closed. For about two weeks, the whole country, almost 1.44 billion people, just stayed home.
Now the factory workers are back to work and wearing masks, but schools and universities are still closed. Everyone is taking online courses. Our government is a strong government, they decide something and do it. I’m glad the government took strong action fast, the situation is much better and getting under control. We are not afraid. I’m still staying at my parents’ house and helping care for my new niece, who was born Feb. 17, during all of this. I feel more like a nanny than a traveler anymore. We named her Suhan. It means “in spring time everything wakes up and is sprouting, and everyone will be smiling.”
Dario Ferrante, 52, CEO of Absolute Sicilia in Palermo, Sicily
Lockdown. What a word. I first heard it during 9/11 and found it hard to understand. Locking an entire country. But it took just a few minutes—after Italian Prime Minister Conte extended the red zone to all of the national territory to contain the outbreak—for us to become aware that this problem was involving everybody. All of Italy is now under lockdown.
And so, in my country, we went from the undervaluation of the virus and putting the blame on media to a real awareness. An awareness made of closures of schools and public spaces, the suspension of funerals and weddings and sporting events, and strong checks by police in a tough attempt to stop the epidemic.
At first, being on lockdown just felt like enjoying a very long weekend, watching Netflix, lying on the sofa, reading books and eating. Keep on eating as never before. But then you realize it’s not an arbitrary decision but an imposition, with no chance to see your friends, your aging parents, no chance to go to a restaurant for aperitif or enjoy a museum or concert. That’s when you realize it’s time to reschedule your life, planning your day out to avoid probable madness.
So I wake up early as I always have, get in a workout at home, check emails. Work operations are of course slow—I work in tourism—but I’m using more time to read, create new programs and strategies and share ideas with other tour operators so we’ll be ready when business starts back up. [On March 13], all Italians met virtually on our balconies to transform them into a stage for a DJ set, opera, live concert, etc. We all started to play, sing and dance as if we were enjoying the largest party ever. And [the next day], we went onto our balconies and terraces and clapped our hands for doctors and health workers. It’s a way to exorcise this invisible enemy. We are using creativity and our big hearts as weapons to this terrible virus. Today, we all believe the virus can be overcome if we try hard enough. We are Italians, we are European, we are humans of the same planet. United we stand!
Christopher MacLean, 46, retired U.S. military, occasional wine blogger in Milan
We’ve been in the apartment, apart from grocery runs, for seven days now. The Lombardy region lockdown started on March 8, the national version was March 9. Three weeks before that, we stopped taking our 10 month-old baby outside, and limited our own outings to the supermarket, the local wine store and takeout restaurants. So seven days ago, we lost the takeout option and our wine store closed. This week, it’s been fun trying to find drinkable wines at the supermarket. I don’t think there’s a projected end date for the lockdown. My wife will work from home until at least the beginning of April.
To prepare, about four weeks ago, we rented a car and went to the U.S. Army base in Vicenza (our first trip there since moving to Milan three years ago) to stock up on diapers, baby wipes, and Clorox wipes. Those items are cheaper in the U.S. Otherwise, we try to buy a lot of everything when we go to the grocery store, just to minimize trips out of the house.
As a stay-at-home dad, the main difference is that I no longer take my son for a walk in the stroller every day. He’s pretty restless in the evenings and hates going to bed. Also, my wife has turned his bedroom into a temporary teleworking office. During some of her business calls, I’m not allowed to use the changing table, which makes dirty diapers slightly more challenging.
For dealing with stress, we watch Cheers reruns on Amazon right after the Italian news ends at 9pm. We’re in season 8, and my Italian wife still likes it!
From my perspective, as long as we have access to supermarkets, the lockdown is pretty endurable. Maybe I’ll feel different next week though?
Sonia Lertxundi, 46, teacher in Barcelona
Basically, I can’t do much right now other than stay at home reading books, watching news and films and trying to get some exercise in. I chat with family and friends and can go shopping for food. But the worst thing is we don’t know when it’s going to end and how we’re going to survive with the economy. Some young people here aren’t taking it seriously yet, we’ve just started and it will be very hard. I’ve cancelled all my travels, they can wait. I am most worried about my mom, who lives across the country and needs to leave her apartment to go shopping. She doesn’t want to ask for any help. We have to protect old people.
Jonathan Ahladas, 46, physical therapist/acupuncturist in Madrid
It’s like a ghost town here. The downtown historic and touristic areas, like the Plaza Mayor and Gran Via, are pretty much empty. All of the restaurants and their outdoor terraces, which define the social culture of Madrid, are also vacant. Spaniards are an extremely social people who will find any excuse to get together, talk, have some tapas and a casual beer or glass of wine. So to see a vacant Madrid just goes to show how serious the civilian population is taking this.
There’s a massive social media campaign going on #quedateencasa [“stay at home”] and #yomequedoencasa [“I’m staying home”] to bring consciousness and awareness that you, me, all of us might be potential vectors of contagion. And by practicing social distancing and self-quarantining, we can help “flatten the curve” and ultimately help those at risk.
Our family is doing well, and I’ve yet to have news of any of our family, friends or acquaintances being infected. So, we will look at this as an opportunity to bond as a family and reconnect (through technology) with old friends, as a time for self-reflection, to slow down and focus on and value what truly matters (family, health and the greater good). It’s a time to cook, read, organize, and play—and to rekindle all things that we, as a collective society, have lost over the years. As a father of two zestful young boys, we parents with younger ones at home will need be even more patient, resourceful and creative and be the stable and calming rock for them during this unstable time.
Michel Binggeli, 47, manager in Zurich
I went to a restaurant last night [Friday, March 13] with friends. It had just been announced by the government that they’re not letting more than 50 people in a restaurant at a time in Switzerland. My friends and I didn’t really follow the rules about not hugging each other. One had just been left by his wife and was crying, I held him. What was I supposed to do?
When I walk through the streets of Zurich now I do see fewer people, retailers are quite empty except food stores, where rice and potatoes and things are missing from the shelves, which are still quite fully stocked otherwise. I stocked up two weeks ago when I saw what was happening in Northern Italy, which is not far from here. We were all told to work from home from Monday. I’m looking forward to it. I think there will be a positive effect on innovation with all this collaborative and digital work getting a boost in the coming weeks. On the one side it’s a pity because we will be socializing less, but now is a time for some reflection with life slowing down. This is part of something historic. It’s part of something that never happened in Switzerland and in many other countries.
Siranda Frees Flores Thorup, 28, nursing student in Copenhagen
Today [Saturday, March 14] is the third day of what they said would be a 14-day lockdown in Denmark, but we know it will last way longer. I’ve been doing an internship at a psychiatric hospital as part of my education and had two weeks left before I was supposed to go travel in Thailand and Cambodia with my boyfriend. That won’t happen now. I’m in a super stressful situation because initially we were told by the government every school in Denmark has to close. And we were told to stay home from our internship. The next day the university told us we have to come back as soon as possible or the internship won’t be approved. People are panicking because it’s totally against the government’s advice.
It’s a super weird atmosphere in Copenhagen, people seem afraid of one another and public transport is totally empty. Today they also closed down the borders so we are really trapped in our own country. It’s a totally surreal feeling. The news is spamming us all day and it doesn’t really help my paranoia, so now I don’t check anymore.
Sasha Hlozek, 38, international education administrator in Prague
We aren’t on lockdown yet, but on Friday [March 13] the Czech government declared a state of emergency for the next 30 days. Then today [March 14] they decided to close most shops and restaurants for at least the next 10 days. Because it’s not a lockdown, we can still go out to grocery stores, pharmacies, etc. and public transportation is functioning, so it wasn’t such a sense of panic. I did go buy some back-up groceries to make sure I had some basics at home, in case I find myself in a situation where I need to be quarantined or everything shuts down.
With the shop and restaurant closures, a lot of establishments quickly came up with the solution of just opening a window for customers to order and take out food, coffee, beer —it was kind of cool to see the quick innovation and the way people were adapting in the neighborhood, still coming out to enjoy a beautiful day and support local businesses. I have my family here in Prague, and I have been in close touch with many friends back in the U.S., so I really do feel that we’re all going through this together. It’s helped me feel less stressed. Yesterday and today, I went for a nice, long walk in a beautiful park in my neighborhood—it feels good to get outside and be in the fresh air. I also baked yesterday, which helped me feel relaxed. I plan to really try and appreciate all the small moments, the people around me and the slower pace of life for a while.
Nav Vilain, 45, poet in Rodez
I can’t help but think there’s a deeper lesson here if we can just go beyond the surface. What is the lesson every individual can learn from this? I’m exploring that within me at the moment which naturally extends to my work as a poet. I feel something really positive could come out of this if people introspect and ask themselves, “What is this really about?” What does this mean to me in my life as an individual, with my family, with my friends, with my community and as part of the global collective? What can we take from this as a lesson toward progress on every level in our lives? But it’s not easy when people are panicking to buy toilet rolls and stock up on pasta. We’re faced here with the opportunity for deep transformation. But first we need to drop our fears and stay open to our inner voice.
Yvonne Gordon, travel writer and AFAR Local Expert for Ireland in Dublin
We are in the early stages of COVID-19 [with 169 confirmed cases in the Republic of Ireland by Sunday evening, and two deaths] but the health service is preparing for a lot more—it feels like the calm before the storm. Experts say our current rate of infection is around two weeks behind Italy.
We are not in full lockdown but things are changing fast. People are being asked to practice social distancing to help flatten the curve. Since Thursday [March 12], schools and universities are closed and people have been asked to work from home. All cultural attractions including museums, galleries and tourist attractions are closed, as well as public buildings, libraries, gyms and playgrounds—and St. Patrick’s Day celebrations for March 17 are of course cancelled. On Sunday [March 15], the government asked all pubs to close.
It is lovely to see how the community here is coming together as the days go on. There are social media hashtags in local areas to help vulnerable people who need shopping etc. Restaurants and hotels are delivering free hot meals to them and to health workers. Chefs are posting free recipes on social media, yoga teachers are giving live online classes and a bakery is giving out free sourdough starters so people can make their own bread. Although it’s still early days here, the message is getting through to everyone to stay home and play their part in containing the spread of this virus.
Trude Sæterøy, 46, area manager in Oslo
I’m lucky to be Norwegian, our government is really trying to help people. We are all just staying home at the moment. Some are quarantined and the rest of us are trying to limit our activities. I feel that all of us are taking it seriously. For the people working in the travel industry it’s devastating, more and more places are closing. I am doing well, I’m not sick and I hope to stay that way.
I can’t visit customers or travel, so we need to communicate with customers by phone. But I’m okay with that. I’m not really worried, I feel safe that the people in our government are doing what they can. Thursday [March 12] was chaos, but I think people have adjusted a bit from the initial shock. Many people had gone to their cabins in the mountains, but the government told them to go home to prevent overburdening small town healthcare facilities.
We’re not supposed to travel anywhere unless it’s absolutely necessary. There’s a Norwegian concept called dugnad. It’s a type of voluntary work where everybody comes together to help. It could be gardening around the apartment, a bake sale to raise money for the local soccer club. Everybody, rich or poor, is prepared to do what they can to help. So I guess this is why we come together as a people in a time of crisis, and don’t divide the country. We are calling this a dugnad as well.
Sachith Sankrani, 38, creative director Brand Management Firm in Mumbai
There is no lockdown as such yet. As of now, we are free to travel abroad and within the country. India is a large country and each state is currently taking ad-hoc measures to prevent the spread of the virus. Mumbai just announced it is banned for groups of five or more people to assemble anywhere. However, public transport is a big worry as we can’t avoid large numbers of people there. On the street here it’s normal, but masked people have increased. So far, I am just preparing for the possibility of working remotely. Most large companies in Mumbai are now taking measures like “work from home” policies. At home, I order food via apps and use Ubers pretty often to get around and that has not changed. Restaurants, bar, cinemas and schools are all shut. All tourism-related industries are already suffering badly and it’s just going to get worse. The government has restricted marriage gatherings, which usually draw hundreds of people in India. And while this didn’t affect the recent Holi festival, upcoming festivals will surely have restrictions. I think it’s a good time to take a break and rearrange our priorities in life. It’s forcing people to take time off from work and other worldly distractions and spend time with their family and friends. I plan to head up to the Himalayas in April. The next two weeks will be very critical.
Rukkini Sen, 38, HR consultant in Mysore
I’m currently in Mysore, Karnataka, and there’s a 10-day bandh (that means lockdown or curfew). There are much fewer people on the streets but life still feels normal. Some shops are open and public transport is still functioning. I’m just shopping for a few days at a time. Definitely avoiding large groups. I came to Mysore for yoga classes and those have been stopped.
This is a sleepy town so life hasn’t changed that much. I work remotely and I’m used to working and trying to strike a work-life balance from home. Nothing much has changed for me. I believe that it would be different for others.
What has majorly changed is not having my son with me. He is currently in Mumbai with his grandmother and due to the recent “stay at home” initiative, I’m unable to bring him back. We are also unable to travel back to France now that the EU has closed its borders.
Domesticated life isn’t bad. The plan is to practice yoga one to two hours a day and have video calls with my son and close friends. Eat healthy. I have never picked up a paintbrush and I painted something random, which was fun. I hope everything calms down.
Pier Giorgio Danella, 55, bank employee in Frankfurt-am-Main
Things in Germany are generally worsening. I am strongly convinced Germany will shut down everything, and not only the schools, but it hasn’t happened yet. I’m concerned because every minute I see this virus affecting my friends and family in Italy, and I feel in Germany there’s a lack of transparency in terms of how many people are really infected. Germany is organized but is missing the decision process, and afraid of the economic consequences. But it is difficult to judge things as this is a completely new situation. In my family with my wife and 10-year-old son, we are following the Italian protocol by staying mostly at home. I’ve started working at home. We’ve told our son our life is going to change for the next two to three weeks. He was already prepared because his ice hockey team has suspended training and games. We’ve made a strict plan for how we will spend our days so he’s not just wasting time on the iPad playing games with his friends.
Raj Gyawali, 52, founder of socialtours and Nepal ambassador for Transformational Travel Council in Kathmandu
Nepal is not yet on lockdown, but life is slowing down. The schools have postponed their annual spring holidays, and in two days all schools will be closed for a month or so. The country has started closing all borders.
The government is not sure how long it will last, but there is a general feeling that the virus is already among the population. People seem to feel that we are a bit more resistant to diseases. Nepalese are proud people who have learned to live in a hard environment. Most have never lived in a contained environment and go through yearly cycles of flus and seasonal diseases. This could be very stupid and irrational thinking, but it does help people going through these times. We are also generally fatalist, believing that whatever is written is our fate and will happen.
For our businesses, of course, it’s a disaster. This is the important spring season for travel and the tourism district is empty right now. People live in cramped, joint families with common toilets etc., so lockdown, when it comes, might look different here. Personally, my family has not done much preparation yet, no hoarding, no stocking at all. Right now, we are concentrating on what to do with the business and how to start working from home, preparing the teams with online tools and practicing how to work remotely.
Personally, I think I am pretty relaxed, but that could change of course as we progress or the virus hits near and dear ones. Right now, work and my family are my relaxations. Work keeps the mind alive and the work on the community level helps keep it alive, too—researching, learning, creating ideas and strategies, communicating. So interestingly, in a strange sort of way, there is a lot to do, even if it does not bring in money. The same happened here post-earthquake, and I guess getting into crisis mode is in a way busy and also relaxing at the same time.
Yinon Idan, 40, supervisor of Kosher in Bnei Brak, Tel Aviv
Jews always say that if one Jew behaves badly it can affect all Jews, like a man who wants to make a hole in a ship and doesn’t care about everyone else onboard. Here, things feel a bit scary. Some people take things seriously and others don’t. One problem is that the ultra-Orthodox Jews have no internet and don’t hear the warnings, so there’s some complacency and disrespect of the instructions. It’s similar to what was happening in Spain and Italy before that put them at risk of the virus.
While some people are staging their weddings in parking lots and rooftops and taking measures like that for social distancing, others are still going to the synagogue to pray and taking a dip in the mikveh. Schools for the general public have been closed and bars and restaurants are now only open for takeout.
But those who give instructions to the public are usually the great rabbis, and they still have not come out strongly and have not canceled the children’s education in their communities. In the ultra-Orthodox community, many are still gathering to study. Rabbi Kanievsky said they will need to learn the Torah because it will protect everyone from this epidemic. The government just started driving through these neighborhoods and making loudspeaker announcements to warn people of the danger, since they aren’t getting the message from the internet.
This article originally appeared online on March 16, 2020; it was updated on April 3, 2020, to include additional information.