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 the number of COVID-19 cases appears to have leveled out in some countries, lockdowns in parts of Europe and elsewhere in the world (and even in several U.S. states) have begun to ease. Governments and individuals grapple with the details of what can and cannot be done, and questions about what constitutes the “new normal” persist, but businesses, parks, and beaches are slowly coming back to life. As we check in with friends across the globe, we’re turning a cautiously optimistic eye to what the future might bring.
Throughout the pandemic, AFAR had updated an ongoing journal of what life was like during the days of strict lockdowns. And now we’re checking in with people in some of our favorite places, too, to see how daily life has evolved in a world just finding its new normal post-quarantine.
Delivered the week of May 25, 2020
Tim Prior, 44, Australian scientist in Bern
We’ve just arrived back from our camper trip to the Engadine, a mountainous and very sporty part of Switzerland’s easternmost area, right on the border with Italy. This trip in our little 1975 Chevy van was our first since the “lockdown.” I put lockdown in quotes because what we had was nothing like what France or Italy had. We were advised to stay at home, and I was surprised that the Swiss actually did it. They’re the type of people who take responsibility for themselves, and if they’re told to do something they think is pointless, they simply won’t do it. My family and I were probably more worried about the situation than many of our neighbors, so we ended up staying home and very much kept to ourselves.
Our Swiss version of the lockdown was lifted on May 11, and since then things have mostly returned to normal. There are heaps more people back on the roads. The central shopping district of Bern, Switzerland’s capital, is back to life (so I’ve been told—I haven’t been back there).
The shops were only allowed to reopen if they adhered to some pretty careful measures: limiting the number of people in shops and restaurants, hand sanitizer on entry and exit, those kinds of things. Some people follow the rules, others don’t. But it’s disconcerting when you’re waiting in line to buy something, maintaining the physical distance from the person in front of you, and someone comes and stands close enough to breathe down your neck.
Although life feels pretty normal here, there’s still a feeling of uncertainty. The Swiss always greet one another with a handshake or three cheek kisses—right, left, right. No one does that anymore. Our kids have been back at school for two weeks now, and we’re not sure what this might mean for the infection rate. We haven’t looked at the news for four days. It’s weird considering we were glued to the news from mid-February until mid-May, trying to understand what was happening to the world while managing our own insignificant part of the situation.
As the first real break we’ve had since this whole shebang started, it sure was awesome to get out and see some of the beauty that Switzerland is renowned for this weekend. It’s also nice to get away from the reality of home-office and the much-discussed possibility of a second wave. Compared to other people around the world, we’re extremely lucky to be here. Instead of our summer trip to Australia, we’ll spend our time here in Switzerland. Maybe if borders really do start opening I’ll try to get to the French Atlantic or Portugal for a surf. Who knows . . . ?
Friðrik Pálsson, 73, owner of Hotel Rangá in Hella
Things are improving quite quickly here. We recently launched a domestic campaign to bring visitors back and it’s taking off quite nicely. We’re well booked on the weekends and the weekdays are picking up, too.
Icelanders do love to travel, and this year they will travel domestically more than ever before. The health authorities here have taken a very wise stance from the beginning. We were always able to roam, but we did so carefully, with hand washing and social distancing. What Iceland did differently from many other countries is that we let the health authorities take the lead, not the political ones. They were backed up by the government and provided smart advice and friendly guidance that was well taken from the start. Our infection rates have remained very low.
Practically everything in Iceland is now open, including swimming pools, with some conditions. At Hotel Rangá, we followed all the guidelines and never closed the hotel or our restaurant for two reasons. The first was to keep our regular customers happy, and the second was to keep all of our employees working for us. Of course, there were days we had nobody or only a handful of visitors, but since most other hotels and restaurants in the area were closed, we captured that business. Our May and June campaign has already brought in quite a number of Icelanders.
We are very much back to normal here in Iceland, but [still] a lot has changed. Everywhere you look, someone is cleaning something, wiping down handrails, sanitizing more seriously, and social distancing. We’ve replaced handshake greetings with Japanese bows. Mostly family members are coming in close contact with each other. Here at the hotel, we give our guests the choice to carry on with dining in the restaurant with a decent distance, or they can opt for spreading out more in our second dining room. It’s our priority that guests feel safe and secure.
Iceland’s authorities are planning to open the borders on June 15. We’ve already received some interest in bookings, especially people from the U.S. and the U.K. In Iceland, there are mixed feelings about lifting the borders, but I think most people understand that we need to open the country at some point. It’s advisable that we monitor the situation and move slowly, step by step, when the general traffic isn’t knocking at our door yet. The number of travelers are limited right now, which is better than opening up in a big way to mass tourism, which could be overwhelming.
In a pleasant way, we’ve taken it all very seriously from the beginning. We were obedient, and, as a result, it paid off for us. For that, we are very grateful.
Hilario Trillo, 40, commercial director for Veico Car Rental in Guadalajara
A few days ago, the Mexican authorities announced that the death toll from COVID-19 has surpassed that of China. At the same time, they also announced a plan to return to “new normal” on June 1.
The storm came and hit us—it continues to hit us. And probably because we are Latino, we feel the hit harder. We are a close people. When we think of family, we think of a group of 30—we even greet people we just met with a kiss on the cheek. It’s not uncommon for a married adult with children to visit their parents’ house every day; this is how close we are. Although confinement must be one of the most difficult stages of life for anyone from any society, I believe we Latins are the least prepared to deal with this situation.
On June 1 begins the plan for economic recovery, which means restrictions will gradually begin to relax. I have already seen the start of this revival firsthand at the car rental company where I work. We have started receiving, little by little, the first reservations after several weeks in which we did not serve a single customer. During that time that felt eternal, the only calls we received were to cancel bookings and request refunds. So far, the pandemic has forced us to reduce our prices and the cars in our fleet, due to the resulting oversupply of rental cars in the market. Although the revival of the business is encouraging, we know things will not be the same as before.
When I think about the near future, I try to be positive. I must admit that at times, seeing the increase in the number of people on the street, I am concerned there may be a rebound in cases, which could lead us back to a state of confinement. I suppose that is a natural fear. The fact that we can finally see a tiny light at the end of the tunnel can only make me happy.
Although handshakes or kisses on the cheek may not return in the foreseeable future, being able to hug our parents, go to work at the office, or share a meal in a restaurant will surely have a positive impact on the mood of people here, and that’s quite a lot.
Delivered the week of May 18, 2020
Arlindo Serrao, 55, founder of Portugal Dive in Lisbon
I’m writing these words immediately after arriving home from an hour-long walk around Lisbon with two of my children. People are once again out on the streets and in the city parks.
It’s not that we are like babies starting to walk for the first time, but it does feel something like that. Many things are entirely new, and we are learning how to deal with all of that. And learning to deal with the feelings of suspicion, too.
Oh look, these guys are coming in our direction. Could they be infected? Do they think we’re infected? We try to increase the distance between us when we pass by, and they do the same. I tell my kids that I just don’t know when this strange feeling will end.
Slowly, life is getting back to normal. The front-liners aren’t the only ones out there alone in the world anymore. Shops are reopening, restaurants are once again converting how they operate—now going from the new take-away business to the even newer social distance–guaranteed dining rooms.
I consider myself lucky. I went to the sea, to go scuba diving, the day before yesterday—yes, we are allowed to do that—and friends are proposing a return dive to the Castelo de Bode Dam tomorrow. I think I’ll join them. Underwater, there is no crisis with the virus. Just the same feeling that the world still is—and tomorrow will be—better, if we humans just do our part.
Helen Iatrou, 49, Greek Australian travel writer and sailor living in Athens
Greeks don’t take too kindly to having their freedoms curtailed. I’m pretty sure it’s hardwired into our genes since 1821, when the country revolted against 400 years of Ottoman rule. So, I was expecting that lockdown, which went into effect here on March 23, would be especially challenging for locals.
Shocked by the situation in Italy and acutely aware of the frailty of our health-care system, the government took swift measures, shutting schools, restaurants, cafés, museums, and archeological sites, followed by stores. No one could travel beyond their metropolitan area, except in specific circumstances.
What proved especially effective among rule-averse Greeks was visible policing and the threat of a fine.
A fortnight has passed since lockdown was lifted and it feels like a weight has been removed from our collective chest. We can now travel within our prefecture and, by May 25, expect to be able to set foot on our beautiful islands, whose vulnerable communities remain under a protective bubble until then.
As avid sailors, we hope to get back on a boat this week. We’re not sure yet whether regattas in the Cycladic and Dodecanese islands, scheduled for July and August and in which we intended to race, will go ahead.
Like the many couples, families, and teens who flocked to beaches this past week amid unusually high temperatures, I’m looking forward to my first bracing swim of the year. It will be more liberating and life-affirming than ever.
Meanwhile, holiday makers from abroad are conspicuously absent, and it looks like it will be some time before they can return to our shores. Greece’s vital tourism sector, made up of mostly small and medium-sized businesses that have created thousands of jobs in recent years, plans to open to international visitors by July 1, and the state is taking a cautious, step-by-step approach.
Hotels, dining establishments, and bars are busy preparing, spacing out tables and applying new hygiene standards. Still, there’s no guarantee those visitors will be able to come.
Greece may have done very well so far in flattening the curve, but it’s important we continue to stay safe as we head into a long, hot Greek summer, which is synonymous with spending carefree days and nights outdoors.
Italy (South Tyrol)
Gabriela Rastner, 33, physiotherapist and osteopath in Bruneck, Südtirol
I shut down my office on March 10, the time when Italy was closing. From this day onward I stayed at home for 43 days, without any other contacts except to go buy food or get some necessary allergy shots in the local hospital. On Day 44, I was able to open my business again, but only for pain patients from my town, as we weren’t allowed to leave our local community.
I’m operating with entry only for one patient at a time. Nobody is allowed in the waiting room—there are many new protocols. I now work with an FFP2 mask, an apron, and eye protection. Sometimes it feels like I spend more time cleaning my office than treating my patients.
South Tyrol is an autonomous region, and the restrictions loosened here faster than in the rest of Italy. Since May 4, we’ve been allowed to move freely inside our area and to finally meet our families again! For me, it felt like coming home after a long trip around the world, as I hadn’t seen my family for such a long time, even though they live just eight kilometers away. Having dinner together was fantastic. Being together, talking to someone face to face and not just into a phone—it was an incredible feeling.
At the same time, though, it was also exhausting. I wasn’t used to so many people anymore. Now, shops are open again. Bars and restaurants are following slowly. Wherever you want to enter you have to disinfect your hands and wear a mask. People are still a bit shy about it all, myself included. I am not leaving my house too often. I don’t have a car, so I am always traveling by public transport, which is possible but limited (and only every second seat is free).
Distance must be maintained everywhere. Nevertheless, there are still a few people around ignoring the rules, but I guess that’s happening everywhere. Let’s hope for the best.
Delivered the week of May 11, 2020
Zena Batocchi, 49, International sales manager at Carrani Tours/Gray Line in Rome
I turn 50 soon and wanted to celebrate with many of my friends. But in these times of COVID-19, we’ve had to put parties aside. The most fun thing about this lockdown has been the virtual aperitivo or happy hours that broke the monotony. I must’ve used 15 different apps to stay connected. I’ve had enough of it now, but we did have fun toasting with everything from beer and wine to prosecco and spritz, vin santo (a Tuscan dessert wine), and Limoncello. Most of the drinks were Italian, to keep the patriotic attitude.
In Rome, beginning last week, we were allowed to get outside and go a bit further than in the last two months. It’s still a bit like floating in a weird atmosphere of doubt. Can I go out? Do I really need to go out? Today I definitely needed to go out to buy hair dye to cover up two months of regrowth. Now, my hair is pink. (All the salons are closed until June, so there’s been a real “beauty emergency,” with many DIY hair disasters around.)
Until recently, we weren’t allowed to be more than 200 meters from our home. I asked a policeman what the rules were now and he said, “As far as your shoes allow you to go.” So I walked for about 20 minutes to reactivate my legs.
Via Tuscolana, originally one of the ancient streets of the Roman Empire, was almost as busy as in pre-COVID times. The only difference was the masks. I saw mothers and children with bikes, groups of three or four elderly people in conversation. Are the Romans dealing with Phase 2 in the right way, you might wonder? Hmmm . . . I’d say our diligence is fading.
Dario Ferrante, 52, CEO of Absolute Sicilia in Palermo, Sicily
As of May 4, we Italians moved from the so-called Phase I to Phase 2. Several factories and industries have restarted and other sectors are supposed to reopen by the end of May. So it’s slightly back to work and back to a sort of normal life, then.
In Sicily, even though we didn’t face the same restrictions as the rest of Italy, due to the very low number of infected people here (the national government treated us like complete idiots, but that’s another story), we still strictly observed the lockdown rules. So the first day after lockdown felt like a sort of reawakening, like coming back to life after being trapped.
In Palermo, people immediately went to Mondello (our local beach) to breathe fresh air, and to run or cycle in the streets, and to meet relatives and partners. Some people became irritable and upset at being suddenly surrounded by others wearing no masks and behaving as if nothing happened. But we are all human, and we all approach life differently.
My first move was to visit my local bar for an espresso. Even sitting to drink a coffee is not permitted since gathering is still prohibited. Only take-away is possible. But the coffee I drank on the street that day had a different flavor. It was the taste of life. I definitely see my life after lockdown as a sort of new sensory rebirth. It was strange to see Palermo so crowded after witnessing the ghost town it was just a few weeks before. It’s a good sign that everything will gradually go back to normal.
These last few weeks have given me time to question. I’m concerned about the effect of the economic recession on my business, but I’m trying to stay positive. Will the world be a better place? I don’t know. Surely we have to be hopeful for the future while enjoying the gift of the present.
Punyanit Rungnava, 37, Dentist and PhD candidate in Bangkok
With the COVID-19 situation becoming more stable, the Thai government decided to lift lockdown on May 1. Small businesses and open spaces have been allowed to reopen, which includes parks and hair salons. I think this is great for young people like my daughter (3) and elderly people like my dad (77), after two months in quarantine at home.
Since the pandemic started, my everyday life changed a lot. I stayed home and worked remotely. My husband, a doctor, works as a hospital director’s assistant upcountry in Chonburi, so he wasn’t able to be home like before. My daughter cannot go to school because all Thai schools are closed until July, which means that I cannot work as effectively as usual. So I’ve been a single mom and had to juggle studying online, playing with my daughter, and working on my thesis. That left me about five or six hours each day to sleep. The stress of the pandemic turned me into a moody mommy, which is not good for my daughter and my family. So this first stage of lockdown lifting is a good opportunity for my family—especially my daughter—to see nature and escape from our building.
That said, I am a bit of a strict person and really concerned about hygiene during this moment. I wear a mask every time I go outside. I have my own alcohol gel and spray. I take a shower immediately after I arrive home. My first thought is, “How much do I need to protect my daughter from germs when she goes outside?”
Luckily, most Thai people are really aware of how COVID-19 is spread. The term “new normal” is widely used. We do not have a strict policy other than asking for cooperation from our communities. Everyone outside needs to wear a mask. All shops measure body temperature and make you sanitize your hands with alcohol gel at the entrance. Open-air restaurants can be open for dine-in now, but all customers need to keep their distance. All these guidelines define the “new normal” in Thailand.
It’s a normal that is not the same. A normal in which we need to keep social distancing and maintain good hygiene. The way we live may need to change forever. However, I think it is good to keep all these strict guidelines in place. I hope COVID-19 has taught us about the uncertainty of life, how everything can change in a heartbeat, and how important it is to be prepared.
Carlos Grider, 36, American travel blogger living in Bali
I’ve been on Bali for 19 months now. The island’s “don’t worry, be happy” mindset has informed the local government’s response to the pandemic from the beginning. Bali managed to maintain a healthy balance between guidance and freedom that made the lockdown tolerably comfortable, while still feeling safe. Early in the pandemic, the Indonesian government automatically extended emergency visas free of charge to all foreigners. Restrictions were put in place around the island, usually on a “regency by regency” basis.
Grocery stores and essential shops remained open throughout, as long as patrons wore masks, hands were sanitized on entry, and a two-meter distance between customers was respected. Masks were mandatory in public. Flights to the island and boats between islands were heavily restricted, but this just left us ex-pats stranded in paradise. No complaints here.
For people who decided to maintain a more strict self-isolation plan, delivery services from restaurants and grocery stores with prearranged no-contact doorstep drop-off made self-quarantine impressively smooth.
Throughout the lockdown, I’ve still been able to have coconuts delivered for sunsets on my terrace, enjoy beers on a cliffside overlooking the ocean, and have afternoons on desolate beaches—all while still isolating responsibly. Running and hiking outside hasn’t been a problem, either, as long as I wear a mask.
Balinese Hindus regularly hold ceremonies that often involved scores of individuals tightly packed into a small area for hours. At no point during the lockdown did those ceremonies stop—people just started wearing masks to them.
I asked one of the village council leaders about how continuing the ceremonies in these times might increase transmission of the virus. He shrugged and replied, “The gods will have their way. They will protect us, or they will take us.” This is pretty much how the relaxed approach to COVID-19 has unfolded on the “Island of the Gods.”
Lately, I see more of my favorite coffee shops and restaurants opening up for takeaway, an encouraging sign of returning to normalcy soon. The larger beaches have been off limits to foreigners for the past month, monitored by uniformed security guards to prevent illegal surfing and sunbathing. But they’re slowly and unofficially reopening, too. Security guards seem to just mysteriously wander off, allowing surfers to sneak in a few waves and others to enjoy a run on the beach and the sand between their toes.
This morning, after a sneaky sunrise surf session on an unmonitored beach, I clumsily climbed back through a hole in the fence with my surfboard. A security guard was waiting on the other side. His immediate response was to ask me in Bahasa if it was good. I replied with, “Absolutely. All good.” He smiled and said, “OK. See you tomorrow then.”
Astrid Daerr, 42, travel journalist in Bavaria
Lockdown all happened very quickly in the middle of March. All the shops, schools, kindergartens, restaurants, etc., had to close. In Bavaria, where we have more cases than in most other parts of Germany, we were not allowed to leave the house except for things like shopping for food or going to the doctor. We were also not allowed to meet any other person who doesn’t live in our household. For me, living alone with a baby during this was very hard. I had to do my work as a writer and everything around the house and garden with no help at all. I had no personal contact with anyone. It felt very lonely and sad, and I didn’t know how long it would last.
At the end of April, restrictions started easing step by step. Some shops could open up again and you could meet one other person in outdoor spaces with a distance of at least 1.5 meters between you. But in Bavaria, they still had Ausgangsbeschränkungen, which meant I was not allowed to drive outside of my district to go hiking or to see a friend. And we had a Kontaktsperre, too, which means not to meet more than one person (and then, only outdoors).
Since May 8, things have gotten much better. All over Germany, you still have to wear a mask in shops and public transport and maintain social distance. But we are now allowed to visit immediate relatives, so I could finally see my parents. There is no Ausgangsbeschränkung anymore so we can move wherever and whenever we want (the border to Austria is still closed, however), and all the shops are open again. But we still have to do social distancing and should not meet more than one other party from another household.
For Mother’s Day, we had a big, happy family reunion with the grandparents, me and my son, and my brother’s family with three kids. We hadn’t gathered at all in the last two months. It feels so much better to be able to see friends again and to have support of the grandparents. In the cities it almost looks like normal life again, despite the fact that everybody is wearing masks in the stores and the marked lines on the shop floors to mark the distance of at least 1.5 meters when queuing at the cashier.
Families are extremely happy that the playgrounds are open again after two months of closure. There shouldn’t be too many kids together and they should keep distance—but that’s going to be impossible to enforce, I guess.
Ben Wadewitz, 39, life coach in Hamburg
With the great weather, the atmosphere really felt like summer this weekend in Hamburg. Everyone was out biking and walking, canoeing and SUPing in the lake, some people were even jumping in the water. They were playing badminton and kubb, too. There’s a €250 fine for having picnics, but there were definitely more than two people together hanging out places. It seems like people are worrying less about everything now.
The ice cream parlor is open in my neighborhood, and only two people can be inside at once, so there are long lines outside with people waiting to get in. Cafés are opening their windows to the street, blasting music to attract people to buy takeaway street food. I saw people waiting almost an hour in line to get their hair cut.
You have to wear your mask to go into the supermarket and some shops have made it mandatory to use a shopping cart as a way to further enforce distance between people. I’ve seen some people wearing gas masks that look like Darth Vader, but I live in a funky neighborhood so they might just be doing that to be funny. It’s hard to say.
Delivered the week of May 4, 2020
Sonia Lertxundi, 46, teacher in Barcelona
The first thing I wanted to do when everyone was finally allowed out to walk and get some exercise again on Saturday (May 1) was to see the sea. Children had been allowed out with their parents already, and people were always permitted to take their pets for a walk. But until this weekend, getting outside for anything other than groceries and those kinds of essential things wasn’t something we could all do. Now in Spain, the day is broken into set hours when people older than 70 can get out for a walk, when parents with kids and people with dogs can go, and when the rest of us who don’t meet any of those qualifications can go outside for exercise or a walk. For me, that means I can go for a walk either between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. or from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.
I’m not a morning person so I wasn’t about to wake up at 6 and missed the morning session. Barcelona has the sea and that’s the most important thing for me, it gives me life. I’ve been doing exercises at home to stay fit so I wasn’t dying to run or anything, like many people. The runners went out like crazy—there was advice to ease back into it, since it had been a while, but nobody paid attention to that. They were sprinting past everywhere. At 8 p.m. on Saturday night, after we cheered for the healthcare workers—as is the norm now—I met a friend and we kept a big distance and walked about 15 minutes from my place in Poblenou to the sea. The streets were busy with people and we tried to pick a lonely route. When we got to the sea, there were bikes and runners everywhere; you had to zigzag to keep a distance.
It was nice to see the water (you’re allowed to surf or exercise in the sea, but not to hang out on the beach). But the feeling was also bad. I was happy to see the water, but I wasn’t happy to see all these people everywhere. While it’s nice to see life outside and everyone getting back to normal life in a way, it’s scary in a way, too. People are relaxing too much, and we don’t know if we’re going to get better or get worse again. They are already having parties in the streets and police are giving lots of fines. The virus is still here. We have to get used to not being close to each other and to wearing the masks inside public places, for now it’s a different life.
I’ll probably go back to the sea tonight to see if it’s better than yesterday. It’s Mother’s Day in Spain, so I’ll wait for the clapping at 8 p.m. and for my neighbor to sing, as he always does after (tonight it will be a song for mothers). I hope maybe things were just crazier this weekend because it’s the first weekend lifting some restrictions, and that this week they’ll be better. In June, if we are allowed to travel within Spain again, as is being predicted, the first thing I will do is go visit my mother in the Basque Country. It’s been a long time since I hugged her.
Jose, 40, building construction in Palma de Mallorca
Work never really stopped for us on the job site, so not a whole lot is changing for me with the new lessening of restrictions. Security protocols were put in place so we could continue with construction. At our work site, nobody has paid attention to the security protocol. And when I say nobody, I mean nobody—from the site manager to the assistant bricklayer. All of the plumbers in my work have been sick, but none of them have been tested for COVID-19. However, when I go to the supermarket here I do see there are many hygiene measures and many people wearing masks, even if it’s not mandatory.
Initially, I allowed myself to be infected by the collective fear. But for a few weeks now, I’ve come to think that the key to all this is understanding a collective citizenship and common sense—two virtues that Spain and the Latin countries will never have. Even if you pointed a machine gun at us to stay home, sooner or later you’ll have to let us leave the house so as not to starve to death (much worse than dying of a sickness). And then we’ll just be infecting each other again at the speed of light.
Betty Carlson, 60, legal assistant in the department of Aveyron
Sunday was Day 48 of what has been a stringent lockdown. But since the government started announcing the measures for a very gradual letup of restrictions starting on May 11, psychologically we are in a new place. To borrow from the Grateful Dead, we have moved into “days between,” as we look ahead to a set date for a freer life with a mix of anticipation, hope, and anxiety.
Personally, I haven’t found the lockdown that difficult on a daily basis. I work for my husband’s law office, right next to our home. Other than not meeting clients physically, our job hasn’t fundamentally changed. Our children live far away anyway—Paris and New York City—although I can’t help but wonder when we will see them again. I do miss our friends, but we are keeping in touch in new ways—or old ways, like the phone. As a hiker, being limited to walking within one kilometer of our house was probably the hardest limit to deal with, but I always felt lucky to live in the country and to have access to trails that stayed open to the public.
The lockdown rules were clear and we have followed them. But we are now contemplating more complex, uncharted territory.
With the gradual easing of restrictions, our movements will be left to personal discretion, as long as we stay within 100 kilometers from our house. This new freedom brings up a slew of questions—especially for people like us, on the fringes of the at-risk group simply by virtue of our age. Gatherings of up to 10 people will be allowed with social distancing, but should we really be going to our friends’ houses again? All shops will be opening, although not cafés and restaurants. But is it a good idea to get out more? Most of our friends plan to err on the side of caution, at least until we can see the statistical impact of the post–May 11 phase.
Marjon Leemborg, 46, editor near Queenstown
“Level 4 with takeaways.” That’s how some people are lovingly calling Level 3, the new lockdown level that has been in effect since last Tuesday in New Zealand. It’s no longer the complete lockdown of Level 4. Life is slowly emerging again a little bit. Construction sites are picking up where they left off, some places are open again for contactless business, like takeaways (restaurants offering takeout food). So with the arrival of Level 3, New Zealanders rushed out to get essential takeaway fixes, queuing in long lines in front of popular fast-food places, like KFC and McDonald’s. Some people forgot about social distancing in the heat of the deep-fried moment, of course. People also went out supporting their local cafés with takeaway coffee and scones. But for everything else, most boundaries are still in place: no socializing, no sports, still working from home for most people and still no school, except for the kids of essential workers.
For me, Level 3 is not that different from Level 4. I work from home, our 10-year-old daughter, Milla, is still home from school. We’re fortunate to have a great coffee machine that makes lovely skim lattes—just how I like them—so I don’t miss my takeaway coffees. And Milla has turned into a full-blown barista during lockdown who even bakes delicious cakes to go with our coffee. I just miss the people I used to have my coffees with. I miss seeing people.
Level 3 doesn’t allow social interactions outside your bubble. Level 4, on the other hand, was crystal clear—stay home, stay in your neighborhood, only use the car to do groceries. That’s it. No exceptions. Level 3, however, introduces a few gray areas. Stay home as much as possible, you can recreate in your region, and keep your bubble as small as possible. We live in a very small alpine town on the South Island without many people here to begin with. Now, with the tourists gone, fewer are left. This makes social distancing quite easy.
But we’re still not sure of a few things. Can we drive out to see the autumn colors in Arrowtown, 20 minutes from our suburb in Queenstown? Can our daughter perhaps see a friend? My husband and I aren’t always on the same page. I tend to be more slack. “If we all go out again, we’ll be back to Level 4 in two weeks,” he says, along with, “We don’t do it for ourselves, we do it for others.” Both rock-solid arguments I can only dispute by being selfish. Luckily, we are both very pro-lockdown and have much respect for the way our prime minister makes decisions and communicates with every New Zealander. To keep this country as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside. We just have to find a happy Level 3 balance.
So we did go for a big, long walk along the river admiring the most beautiful autumn colors. But we still haven’t seen any of our friends except on Zoom or Facetime. I can’t wait for Level 2, when life hopefully includes a few more social possibilities. When Milla can go back to school again and hopefully sports are back on. Until then, we’ll just keep baking cookies in our own little bubble.
Magdalena Mittersteiner, 21, student in Innsbruck
For about two weeks now, lockdown has gotten easier with many restrictions letting up. For me, it almost feels like normal because we’re allowed to practice outdoor sports (at the height of the lockdown in March, we were only allowed to leave for grocery shopping, work, pharmacy, or doctor visits). I like climbing, running, and paragliding. I study business psychology and we have online courses, so I am quite busy these days. I think we will get used to wearing masks in public.
That said, it’s not normal now and it won’t be for a longer period. But we are now allowed to leave the house without those essential purposes, we’re allowed to do outdoors sports with people from the same household and while keeping distance from others. We are forced to wear masks in public, like in supermarkets or public transport.
I enjoy some rock climbing outdoors, but traveling is still not possible since the borders are closed. As soon as they open, I will visit my family in South Tyrol (Italy).
Zuzana Novakova, 61, press officer in Pardubice
In the middle of Europe, we started to take the problem of COVID-19 seriously after the first cases started appearing in Italy.
From March 12 until May 17, the Czech Republic is under a state of emergency. The restrictions are changed according to the situation. Schools are closed, most of the shops have been closed about six weeks (except food, pharmacy, and drugstore), restaurants can only deliver food, and there are no live cultural and sporting events. We have never been completely stuck at our homes. Some walks in the park or woods with a limited number of people were recommended. Fortunately, it looks like the restrictions really worked.
Since March 18, we’ve been obliged to wear masks or headscarves when among other people. Because there was a worldwide shortage of protective equipment, the masks were in short supply. We had two options—we could spend our time blaming the government or make the masks ourselves. We chose the second option. So instead of shopping for guns, people started to make our own protective equipment from cotton fabric and organized help (shopping, dog-walking, etc.) for the elderly in our neighborhood. I spent some evenings at my sewing machine. (Most Czech households have sewing machines because before the Velvet Revolution we could not get any fashionable clothes without making them ourselves.) Along with my work colleagues, we made about 300 masks for the senior home in our town.
Our health system is very good: All people have insurance, we have enough hospitals, ICU beds, etc. But life has changed. A lot of people cannot work. Most of them have some sort of compensation from the state (mothers of children up to 13 years old have 80 percent of their salaries). In my job as a press officer, nothing dramatic has changed, except that I spend more time working from a home office and work digitally with journalists more often. As my work is connected with culture, my spring calendar was full of events—theater, concerts, operas, exhibition openings. Now I have to erase it all, along with a big outdoor concert featuring Sting that was planned. Maybe next year . . .
Now, the situation is returning slowly to normal—except that we must wear masks in public and no activities with more than 100 people are allowed. This week, I could finally go play tennis with my friends. It was great, but my shoulder is sore since it had been so long.
What is the most difficult for me is that I haven’t seen my mum (88) for three months. She lives in a home for Alzheimer patients that has serious protection rules. I understand. We have telephone contact and now they offer us video call, too, because they got some computer tablets as a gift. Hopefully, on June 8, restrictions will end. Luckily, that is also her birthday.
I am grateful that thanks to the timely actions from the government and responsible behavior of our citizens, we managed to buy some time and “flatten the curve” and get more prepared for the next months. But I believe that now, as we start to know what we are facing, it is time to move forward and start to learn to live with COVID-19 the same way we learned to live with influenza.
Social distancing is needed right now, but we shall not forget that social proximity has always had its risks—but it is one of the best and most important things we can experience in life. Do not let our fear steal it in the years to come!
Katrine, 41, graphic designer in Oslo
Restrictions have started to ease a bit in Norway. A lot of the cafés and bars are still closed. But with the good spring weather, people are hanging out in the park and barbecuing, most in small groups of the allowed maximum of five people or fewer. A few larger parties have been shut down. I feel like people are perhaps more kind in a way. From May 7, gatherings of up to 50 people—small concerts and those kinds of things—are going to start to be allowed.
On April 20, I could take my son, three, back to daycare for the first time since this all started. They had shortened hours and only up to five kids in each class. After nearly four weeks away from his friends, he was very excited and it went very well. The kids were so happy to see each other. It had been all those weeks since he’d played with another kid.
This time at home together has also been good for us. We were always allowed to be outside and took long walks in the forest every day. I got to know him better. And because I couldn’t really work since I had him home with me, I was able to relax and just be with him in a different way. It’s been a very good thing, this aspect—to relax and follow another path.
It will be a long while before we have the vaccine. Even if we go back to “normal,” it’s not going to be normal in a way. I am in a good situation here but it’s about how the whole world will change. We’ve been talking about if we can use this time to become a more green world, but that’s still to be seen.
Shridhar Jawak, 30, Indian citizen and Arctic researcher living in Longyearbyen, Svalbard
Svalbard is still one of those very few virus-free places I can see on the map of our planet. Having said this, somehow, some of us suspect that the virus could touch this island anytime, as we all know the rapid pace at which it is spreading throughout the world.
I live in Longyearbyen, the northernmost town on our planet. From the beginning of the lockdown on March 13, all tourists and residents who landed in the town from any other part of the world were quarantined. I was on the plane that took around 15 residents from Oslo to Longyearbyen.
This is my second spring in town and it is entirely different than the last year. It’s similar to how it is during the darkest days of winter, when most residents stay in the town and there are very few tourists. If I am not wrong, this is the first spring in the past many years that this town has witnessed almost no tourists at all.
I am working from home for more than a month and keeping as much distance while walking in the town. We are allowed to go out but strongly encouraged more than a meter distance from each other. We generally go out for long walks in the town but no more big adventures to avoid any accidents, which would increase the pressure on the local hospital. The grocery shop is open regularly but not very crowded. Surprisingly, I have not seen many people wearing masks in the town. However, cleaning hands with sanitizers before entering the grocery shop is being practiced well.
As far as working from home, I feel that we all are working on two weekends, one long weekend from Monday to Friday, and then a short weekend as I (like many others) have lost the meaning of the weekend. I am slowly adapting to the new situation as none of us was ready for this. Most of the researchers from the Arctic science community have canceled their field activities in Svalbard because of travel and quarantine restrictions.
This is the second week of easing down the lockdown. At the beginning of this process, kindergartens and schools for young kids started back on April 20. However, kindergartens are not open for the full working day as usual, but for a shortened day. My observation is that the productivity of working from home has improved with the kids back in school. This is mainly because online schooling and the kids kept parents very busy during the daytime. On the other hand, the quarantine period in Svalbard has been extended until May 18. This means that travelers are not advised to travel to Svalbard. And if they travel, they have to undergo the 14-day quarantine period. All courses in the University Center in Svalbard (UNIS) have been canceled for the entire 2020 calendar year. I somehow feel that we are still in the process of getting back to normal. The time to really get back to normal is still uncertain, as the current easing out is being monitored to understand its effect.
I reckon we will have to coexist with the virus for the coming months until we get the vaccine or we get immunity. Meanwhile, my heart and thoughts are with my loved ones back in India. Thanks to the internet, I keep in touch with parents during all of this. Once the situation improves, I plan to visit my parents.