What it’s like to be in lockdown in 12 countries around the world
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During these unprecedented, worrying and uncertain times, there’s one thing pretty much every country has in common at the moment: some form of a lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many countries are urging residents not to leave home except for medical supplies, food or exercise. There’s absolutely no socializing in groups, and the travel and hospitality industries are at a standstill.
The main rule of lockdown is quite simple: stay home. We are naturally social creatures, so being forced to isolate from other humans can be very challenging — but, of course, for the greater good. It won’t be forever. And as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps across the globe, each country has come up with varying ways to deal with the crisis. And from nightly operas on Italian balconies to National Health Service workers being handed bouquets of flowers while they’re shopping, there are scenes of great solidarity playing out all over the world.
TPG U.K. spoke to people from a dozen different countries to learn about their experiences under lockdown.
In Ireland, no one is leaving the house unless absolutely necessary. The government has also imposed a rule where you can only exercise alone and about a mile from where you live, according to travel writer Nicola Brady.
“There’s no dampening of the spirits — despite what was possibly the quietest Paddy’s Day on record,” Brady told TPG U.K. “A massive game of bingo was held between the residents of a Dublin apartment block last week, with the bingo caller shouting out the numbers on a loudspeaker.”
Brady also said that lots of businesses are being charitable.
“The Galway meal prep business Clean Cut Meals has given 500 meals to medical frontline workers this week alone,” she said. “And Listoke Distillery has ceased their gin making operation and is instead manufacturing hand sanitizer, which has been in short supply, to donate to homeless shelters and women’s refuges.”
“But best of all? Our beloved president, Michael D Higgins, wrote a poem for the nation, entitled ‘Take Care,'” Brady added.
In South Korea, a nation that once had the second-highest number of coronavirus cases in the world, now has more people in recovery, said Isaine Blatry, a French student who lives in South Korea. But the government has introduced an organized system of helping all Koreans obtain face masks based on their birthday. People also receive 10 or more messages every day to warn them when and where people who are affected have been.
“Each day of the week there are two numbers,” Blatry said. “For example, on Monday this week, it was one and six — which correspond to the last number of your date of birth. On this day you can go and buy two masks, which should last you a week if you are social distancing responsibly.”
“Now, it’s the season of [the] cherry blossom, which is a really important event in Korea. Normally, friends and family gather to have picnics, take pictures and have a walk near the Han river while admiring the blooms,” Blatry said. “All the cherry blossom festivals have been canceled, which is a shame — but obviously something we have to do.”
Due to the “collapse of the tourism industry,” she said the government has provided 1.5 billion euros to “safeguard the economic livelihood of individuals and businesses,” and Icelandair’s CEO Bogi Nils Bogason has tried to cushion the blow by introducing part-time work for employees instead of laying people off in vast numbers.
“Ironically, this epidemic has brought us closer together as a community,” Vilbergsdóttir said. “Generous gifts have been donated to hospitals and an anonymous donor gave 15 ventilator machines. Famous artists, who also have suffered a lot from cancellations, have been streaming live concerts, and actors and musicians have sung for the elderly in front of their homes.”
“We are all being encouraged to keep on living as normally as possible, by going outside for walks and to get some exercise to lift our spirits. It’s easier said than done to drag the children away from their PS4s and iPads for a walk,” Vilbergsdóttir joked. “But some genius came up with the idea to place teddy bears or other stuffed animals in windows where it is possible to go for a walk and count how many are to be found.”
John Balson, a British documentary maker in Tokyo, said he arrived there one day before the country tightened restrictions on all gaijin, or foreigners, entering the country — and despite expecting a “dystopian wasteland where the only things still running were the country’s estimated 5 million vending machines,” the pandemic hasn’t taken hold — at least not yet.
Balson said some of the explanations put forward to understand why Tokyo’s residents haven’t been as affected as the rest of the world so far include a possible Japanese genetic immunity to the virus, or the popularity of fermented foods (fermented foods are said to be immune boosting).
“Others believe Japan’s famous hands-off culture and abundance of individuals already living isolated lives could also be a factor,” Balson continued. “The Japanese rarely shake hands, preferring to bow, and they take their shoes off at every home on arrival, unlike in many Western nations. Adults living in isolation are also so ingrained in Japanese culture, they already have names — the hitori-gurashi.”
Balson also said things are relatively business as usual: Young families in Meguro are admiring the cherry blossoms on the canal, and the famous Shibuya traffic crossing is still packed. The only obvious sign something is wrong is the lack of crowds at the daily televised Sumo matches, he added.
“This week, coronavirus numbers finally began to worryingly rise in Tokyo, and the government is doing even more to encourage working from home and reducing social contact. Some, like myself and relatives, have headed to the countryside.”
In Israel, lockdown is being taken very seriously, said writer Georgia Barnett — couples are even living separately and only communicating via FaceTime. One couple even had a Zoom video conference wedding party, she said.
“A couple I know got married in person like normal, then they had the first dance on Zoom for their guests and a rabbi Zoomed in … to bless them,” Barnett said. “Even Israelis who don’t understand the concept of personal space or lining in an orderly formed queue have all really snapped into action during this time and are being extremely cooperative.”
“People are not allowed to congregate in each other’s homes, and no more than two people can be in a room at one time.”
“There are efforts to help those that live alone, and food delivery services are still operating, as are other small businesses such as art supply stores and clay-painting companies.” Barnett said they’re dropping off activities to people who are in quarantine to help lift their mood.
“Everyone is clubbing together and joining group chats and having virtual afternoon teas and happy hours together, meditation groups, writing circles, sharing circle,” Barnett said. “It feels as if the community is really showing its support to each other.”
Despite the Caribbean being relatively unscathed by the COVID-19 outbreak, the tiny island of St. Lucia has — at the time of writing — a handful of cases, so the country is also in lockdown. Because the island nation is heavily reliant on tourism, its economy has been “decimated,” according to Dominic Fedee, the St. Lucian minister for tourism, information and broadcasting.
But Fedee also said the surplus of food in all the hotels is being given to the elderly and vulnerable, and the maintenance workers from all the empty resorts are being deployed to help in hospitals and schools.
“Hotels have made their rooms available to house medical and security staff who are working long hours and who live far away,” Fedee added. “We have roughly 1,000 rooms that would usually be full of guests that are housing medical support staff.”
“Tourism is our oxygen, so things have become extremely difficult. But our people are still optimistic and we are making sure we learn from bigger countries so that when the tourism industry comes back, we are ready to open our doors.”
Spain is one of the countries that has been hardest hit by the coronavirus — at the time of this writing, the death had already exceeded 10,000. TPG senior writer Lori Zaino, an American based in Madrid, has written a detailed piece about life in lockdown there and has reiterated how strict the nation is being. People can be fined thousands of euros for leaving their homes without a valid reason.
But, she said, the people in Spain are “generally positive, scared but hopeful.”
“This is generally hardest for those in cities like Madrid, where people live in flats without outdoor space. But everyone is doing the best they can and helping their neighbors out. For example, yesterday was a friend’s birthday. He set up a giant speaker and asked for song requests from his neighbors, who then baked him a cake and left it outside his door.”
“The government is helping by allowing small businesses to temporarily ‘fire’ their employees. The government will pay them unemployment benefits until the businesses can reopen,” Zaino added. “Decathlon is also donating all its snorkel masks to make respirators.”
In New York City, the epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S., NYPD officers are even more visible than normal, said TPG’s editorial director, Laura Motta. But there are “many efforts” to help communities taking place.
“The city is offering three free meals a day to residents who need them at public schools in the city,” Motta said. “People have been hit so hard by this, not just because of illness, but because of job loss. Free meals feel like an important step.”
“There is a round of applause every night at 7 p.m. for health care workers and people working in essential businesses. The applause feels like it’s for those workers, too — and maybe a little bit for ourselves, as we weather this.”
Motta also said that socializing in favorite bars and restaurants is in a New Yorker’s fabric, so the lockdown is “painful.”
“There’s a willingness to let all of those things go temporarily in order to save lives and protect ourselves,” she added. “I think we’re all dreaming of the day, however, that we can raise a glass with friends at our favorite local bar.”
Saddlemaker Michelle Bradley said that in New Zealand, those in uniforms are getting “first dibs” in supermarkets and everyone is “keeping an eye” on the elderly.
“Kiwis seem to be taking it as a paid holiday and heading to the beach, so now it’s looking more like the beaches will also be locked down,” Bradley told TPG U.K.
“Small businesses are getting a lot of help financially, so that’s really good, but things are being enforced more every day and this is only the start of it here in New Zealand.”
In Greece, you must send a text to the Civil Protection Secretariat if you want to go out and wait for an automated reply before leaving your house, said American travel writer Anthony Grant, who is based in Athens.
“As an alternative, you can have a signed declaration with your signature, but in any case, if you leave you must have a national identity card or passport with you at all times. Those found in violation risk a 150 euro fine.
“In another unprecedented move, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has called on all ministers and members of Parliament to deposit half of their salaries over the next two months to a special fund to help combat the pandemic.”
In Brazil, psychologists are offering mental health support for free to people who are suffering from anxiety. There’s also a pizza app that allows the buyer to gift a pizza to the delivery person so he or she can enjoy a free meal at home with their family.
Corporate lawyer Priscila Trigo said other experts are also volunteering their support. “Yoga and physical education teachers are … offering free online classes to help people on their new routine.”
“Last week, it was determined by the Governor of São Paulo state that all stores, malls, gyms and companies should close until April 7. Only supermarkets, street markets, pharmacies, restaurants and bars are open — but for delivery only,” Trigo said.
“Most of us are using video calls to help and also video classes — and some people are singing from their balconies to their neighbors.”
The lockdown is being enforced very strictly in Singapore, said Australian lawyer Chris Chong, who lives there. But there are certain people who have welcomed it.
“At cafes and restaurants, every second table and chair is marked with duct tape to indicate they can’t be used,” Chong said. “Police and special forces are patrolling most built-up areas.”
“But one segment of the community here that is actually somewhat enjoying this situation is parents whose adult children still live at home. This is because it has forced the family to spend more time together, which they enjoy.”
Chong also said tea parties are still going ahead though, and the government has given immediate relief to small businesses through cash handouts.
Learning about how people from all over the world are coping with coronavirus — the common enemy — will hopefully inspire you and give you hope that we can, and will, be able to travel and see each other again, sooner rather than later. Despite life being topsy turvy at the moment and cultures from all over the world each facing different challenges, there are certain universal elements to this global crisis — supporting the community, boosting morale and maybe most importantly, taking social distancing seriously.
Featured photo by SOPA Images/Contributor
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