As Covid-19 spreads across the globe, LCC students from many countries are keeping journals of their own experiences and those of their family and friends. Their stories paint a picture of this extraordinary time in the UK, Europe, the Americas, Asia and beyond. Read Coronavirus Diaries Week 2
Ysabel S. Vitangcol (Filipina student living in Manila): March 12-19
Living in a third world country my entire life gave me a cultural breakthrough when I entered the UK in 2018 as an international student. If the ‘American dream’ existed, so did the ‘British’. I had a deeper appreciation and sense of wonder for what surrounded this Southeast Asian in England. I began my studies as an MA Arts and Lifestyle Journalism major that autumn, and enjoyed every minute of it.
Fast forward to 18 months later, I’ve completed my Master’s degree and opted to maximise the last three-four months of my visa studying short courses in Strategic Digital Marketing & Brand Strategy. Little did I know that I would be bidding my life in the UK earlier than I expected because of a virus that killed not just people, but also dreams of many around the world.
I was at LCC during a staff meeting for Artefact magazine when I found out that my home country’s president, President Rodrigo Duterte, declared a nationwide lockdown in Luzon, a major island in the Philippines that also nests Manila, the country’s capital and my hometown. Frankly for me, it was expected. However, what troubled me at that point were the following: would I be permitted to come home? Would the UK Home Office extend my visa if travel was restricted? How will my classes be? Is my country prepared to deal a pandemic? What about my family? How will others provide for their families if they cannot ‘afford’ to work from home? To add insult to injury, just last September, the country’s national health budget was cut by PHP 10 billion (£16 million). Thoughts of worry and fear rocked my mind. I yearn for assurance that my home country would be ready to face the worldwide enemy.
The sun was blazing up in the sky, with a few chills sweeping the fallen, dry leaves off of LCC’s campus grounds. It’s a great day to be outdoors, I said to myself. I opted to take the commute home by foot from Elephant and Castle to the South West of London. Streets were emptier than usual; but I wasn’t sure if residents were starting to quarantine themselves at home or if it was because the rush hour hadn’t hit yet.
As buses and other vehicles came wheezing past me with the mixed background of chatters of school children being heard from left to right. Little did I know that it would be the last time that I would be out in the open of “London grounds”, before I made the decision to pattern myself to the Philippines’ quarantine period that would last for a month. Luckily, four days earlier, I’ve gotten enough supplies that could last me until April 2, the day of my scheduled flight back to Manila.
Boredom was inevitable but I continued to keep myself productive by cleaning my studio flat, keeping in touch with friends and family, doing home exercises (thanks, YouTube) applying for jobs and learning new skills (again, thank you YouTube).
At 3pm on the 18th, my parents decided to book me a one-way ticket to Manila. Because my student visa was to expire on April 6, it made sense to come home earlier in time for the rumoured lockdown. Never believe in rumours, they said – but with the outbreak of this pandemic, I had to be safe than sorry. I had 24 hours left in the UK, and less than that to pack up nearly two years worth of a life I built in my studio space.
I whisked two years of my life in the UK under 24 hours in two huge boxes, three plastic roll carts and six jumbo sized eco-bags. These would be placed in storage for my friends who were fine taking in the responsibility for me. I was physically and emotionally exhausted, having to bid my UK life abruptly and earlier than expected. What feared me the most is the long-haul travel, as airports are believed to be a common place to catch the virus. Knowing that travellers have gone here and there around the world – corona carriers could be anywhere.
With four pairs of disposable plastic gloves, three (separate) 100ml containers of isopropyl alcohol, five disposal surgical masks, two check-in luggages and one hand-carry, I was set to make the 16-hour travel from the United Kingdom to Manila.
Upon arrival at Heathrow, passengers pushing trolleys topped with suitcases were donning masks of different kinds – the circular N95 and surgical as the most common. Despite the long queues for check-in, social distancing was practiced. I sprayed rubbing alcohol every time I got to hold items, including my boarding passes and passports.
As much as possible, I sat away from travellers that were beside each other. I noticed that even in the boarding gate, social distancing was practiced while waiting for boarding. I tried going ahead of everyone; rushing to my seat as to avoid close contact to people behind and in front of me.
Wearing plastic gloves admittedly was uncomfortable as my palms were sweating, caused by the enclosed space, the nervousness and paranoia of traveling. I only got to remove and dispose them a couple of minutes on flight after I frequently cleansed with rubbing alcohol and hand sanitizer.
The flight crew of Emirates were all wearing surgical masks and disposable gloves, too. The entire aircraft practiced social distancing. When my flight was booked, most seats were already taken; only to arrive and see that they remained empty. Perhaps it was a deliberately done by the airline to maintain social distancing.
Stuti Khetan (Indian student in Mumbai): March 2 & March 14-16
I am an Indian student who moved to London in early September of 2019 for my MA in Arts and Lifestyle Journalism. My story with Coronavirus has been pretty dramatic so far.
March 2 – Monetary loss
It started way back in early March when my Schengen Visa was rejected. I had planned to go to Spain for a month for my Easter break from college. It was all planned – the sun, the ocean, and lots of sangrias – something I had thoroughly missed while spending eight months in the gloomy and grey city of London. This was important to mention because most of my bookings were non-refundable and I had to face a huge monetary loss that I had worked hard to earn in London while juggling with my uni deadlines. I decided to travel around the UK anyway; there was no way I would spend my one month break sitting in the same city.
March 14 – Decision to fly back home
It was a hungover morning and I hadn’t still gotten the seriousness of the virus. I was dreaming of traveling towards the ocean – to Dover, or Brighton maybe? I was interrupted when my worried Dad called me and told me to book my tickets to India, otherwise he would book them himself. I didn’t want him to spend a huge amount of money on these last minute flights in this time of recession. So I fought very hard at first, telling him not to worry about me and that I would manage my quarantine time in London. But, within a split second the pressure, he got to me. All my friends were going back home and when, I had been to the grocery store just a couple of days back, all perishables were out of stock. I spent the last of my money on this flight to India. What I didn’t realize was, it was 11:00am, and the flight I booked for was at 1:30pm on the same day. I was in my night clothes, hadn’t packed any luggage and Heathrow was an hour away from where I live. I called for an Uber, and it was three mins away. That’s all the time I had to pack, shower, change and get going. My Uber driver was an absolute blessing because he not only sped the car to its maximum but also provided me with a phone charger that I desperately needed or I wouldn’t be able to enter the gates. I ran through the security and the gates to get into my plane JUST IN TIME, only to realize that it was delayed by three hours. The reason was that all other flights for the day were cancelled, and they wanted to merge as many passengers into ours as possible. The flight was full of Indian students, some excited to go back home and others, like me, absolutely dreading it.
March 15 – Airport security
At the Indian airport, the security was extremely tight. Anybody who even coughed or showed any slight symptoms of fever was directly taken into an isolated cell to be examined further. It was a scary, time-consuming process but when I got out of the terminal, it was the quietest I had ever seen Mumbai city. I reached my house within 20 mins, which was a BIG SURPRISE as compared to the usual hour and a half it used to take even on a good day. My family was of course happy to see me after more than a year and none of us knew what to expect in the coming days. At least I had the sun, if not the ocean and Sangrias! I booked my return ticket for April 10 as soon as I was home, assuming things would settle down by then. I’d be back in London just in time to start my course again.
March 16 – The government came home
Now I knew I was supposed to be self-isolating, and I was, but officials from the government came to my house with a record showing that I had just flown in from abroad. They had my address, passport number and flight details too. I was low-key impressed at the efficiency in spite of it being a big populated country. They did a minor check-up in spite of me showing no symptoms and once all the results were negative they asked me to stay quarantined in my room anyway for 15 days minimum with no physical contact even with my family of five. My family was told to not step out of the house no matter what. I started wondering if it even made sense for me to come back and put my family through so much trouble. It was an anxious time, and it was a little unsettling to not do my work on my own. Every glass of water, every plate of food was left for me outside my room, and collected once I was done. Not having to buy my own groceries, make my own food and do my own dishes felt like an absolute luxury.
A.L. Ashkenaz (Indian student living in London): March 20 & 23
Over a week has passed since everyone has begun social distancing and I have learned one thing about myself: I cannot allow myself to slow down. Every other time in my life, I’m used to the intensity and the fast pace of the world. With nothing to do, my brain feels like a rudderless ship, drifting wherever the current takes it.
I’ve experienced this kind of isolation before. December 2018, due to poor financial decisions I was living off £10 per week, which meant I could only stay in my room. That experience definitely affected me; I would lose hours of my life blankly staring at my phone.
Looking back, I’ve understood that, for me, this is about control. I need to have some kind of control over my life. Everything I do needs to be with purpose, not something I drifted into. I cannot function without restrictions that I’ve set for myself. Otherwise I spiral and everything falls apart.
Which is why I’m constantly on the move. Which is also why I’m trying my best to keep the same drive while the world is on lockdown. I need to challenge myself. One of things I’ve decided to do is to not sit on the bed for any purpose that isn’t sleeping. So far, it’s worked and my first week was incredibly energetic, as I had the willpower to cook, read, watch TV, go on walks, workout, and meditate, all in a state of control over myself.
The UK government recently announced the closure of all gyms, pubs and restaurants. While it feels rather late, I’m glad they’re actually treating lives of low level workers with the same level of respect as CEOs, board members, or any job that can allow people to work at home. This crisis has truly shown how under-appreciated the grocery store owners and home delivery drivers are.
Today, I spoke to my parents in India, who are self-isolating there. The entire country is on lockdown. Like UK, all except essential services are closed. While I’m glad that they’re taking major steps in the early stages of the virus, I’m still worried. India’s healthcare system is underfunded and disproportionately favours the wealthy and middle class regions. They are currently facing a severe shortage of testing kits, which has resulted in a spike in cases. Despite the early quarantine, India is failing to flatten the curve and the world’s second most populous country may suffer greatly for it.
People are still finding hope though. Yesterday at 5:00pm people stood out in their balconies and cheered for the nation’s health workers by clapping and banging pans together. While a nice sentiment, this almost immediately backfired when some people took this celebration to the streets and paraded around in large numbers. I’m not sure they understood what they were cheering for, or what quarantine is.
Hanna Modder (German student in Kreis Soest, North Rhine-Westphalia): Week 1
I live in the German countryside, where a lockdown has almost no consequences on day-to-day life. Even before, it mainly consisted of going to work, shopping for food and going for walks amidst wide acres and meadows.
Still, people now seem to have the irresistible urge to act against every official recommendation. Even this Friday, my neighbours happily gossip over their garden fence whilst using the unexpected time to finally give an overhaul to their garden sheds. Social distancing? Not for Brigitte and Rudolf who enjoy a lively chat, probably about the best hacks to buy more than the socially acceptable amount of hand sanitiser.
Consequently, the German government had announced the possibility of full-on lockdowns, similar to France’s and Italy’s, to be announced today.
This prospect is a real threat to many. Some of our grandparents lived through the Second World War. Many of our parents were part of the student movement in the 70s and 80s. Being able to leave the house, to exchange ideas and demonstrate is one of the pillars of our democracy. Now, that right-wing parties gain more and more popularity all over Germany, exercising our right to demonstrate and speak freely is more crucial than ever. So, politicians were generally hesitant to impose tangible restrictions.
Instead, they resorted to appeal to common sense, illustrate measures with scientific evidence and are transparent about the upcoming proceedings. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, held her first personal speech to the public outside of the New Year’s one, a clear political signal. Her most remarkable quote (especially in comparison to the wartime rhetoric her international counterparts use): “In times like these, only distance is a sign of care”.
But ultimately, only words did not suffice. Just this evening, instead of a lockdown, the ministers of all federal states put a contact prohibition in place – meaning that you cannot go out in a group of more than two people from the same household or you are commiting a felony. That is one step below a complete lockdown but, still, a drastic measure.
Just staying at home, we could have avoided any formal restrictions. But the steps taken by our government show that we have not realised the threat that is upon us: Too many see going out as an act of unconditional hedonism, as a sign of resistance to the establishment. And it is true. Fighting the system has never been easier than just leaving the house.
But it has also never been more reckless. And I can only hope that we now show that we take the virus seriously by sticking to the new rules. So we can still go out to the shops. Go to work if we need to. And walk by the acres and meadows that provide a strange sense of comfort in these unsettling times.
Zonaira Chaudry (Saudi student living in London): Week 1
I moved to London five months ago as a journalism student from Saudi Arabia. Coming from a desert, London was supposed to be the experience of a lifetime, a turning point in my life. Everything was going according to plan till Corona happened. Living in London during the time of Corona is becoming a learning experience.
The first shock I faced was to not be able to go home during Easter break. My flight was cancelled twice. As I was flying through Turkey, the Saudi government suspended all flights from Turkey as the number of those infected there were on the rise. I booked another flight which was also cancelled as Saudi Arabia suspended all international and domestic flights for two weeks. This travel restriction might increase depending on the Corona situation. I guess going home is not meant to happen anytime soon!
Saudi Arabia usually places strict measures when it comes to handling crisis. Even though the situation was not as severe compared to other countries, schools and universities were closed on March 9. On March 15, restaurants, parks, malls were also ordered to shut down, with the exception of food stores and pharmacies. The government has also locked down Qatif, the region where most of the cases were reported. Due to the onset of Corona, Saudi Arabia also closed and disinfected its religious sites that attract large number of pilgrims every year.
The country took drastic measures on time to control the spread of the pandemic even though no deaths were reported and the number of cases till March 20 was 392.
Friends from back home told me that they have already been in isolation for two weeks. I don’t know when I will be welcomed back in the desert again but, thanks to the corona crisis, I will never take home for granted. Millions might be stuck at home but there are many who are unable to go home.
Social distancing is the new buzzword on social media. People are trying to find new ways to kill boredom while adapting social distancing. A fellow flat mate has joined TikTok and is suggesting the same to all of us hoping that we could be TikTok friends. I am thinking of giving it a try if I get too bored.
Being an international student and living in London is already overwhelming but dealing with the corona crisis, unable to go home because of travel restrictions and being stuck in student accommodation when all your friends have left is a new level of emotional turmoil. We are all instructed to self-isolate which isn’t an easy act. Practice it for a couple of days and you start valuing the simple pleasures of having a meaningless conversation with a stranger.
During this past week, amongst the rumours of a lockdown, everyone had plenty of advice to offer but the only words of solace I heard were from a stranger I met on the bus. A British woman in her 70’s with a white rosary in her hand who advised “Keep on praying; we will get through this.”
Mathilda Frotscher (German student in Hamburg): Week 1 – March 13-20
My name is Mathilda, I am a German second year student at LCC.
I grew up in Hamburg and moved to London the day after my 18th Birthday and lived as an au pair for one year. It’s very important to understand that I wanted to move to London and not to the UK! Other foreigners get what I mean by that, the massive difference in association when thinking of London and the UK. Just like New York is not really part of the US in most people’s brains, but more like its own universe.
Anyway, I then started my studies and moved in with my Sri Lankan boyfriend. The first year at Uni was an enjoyable experience in terms of the education but I didn’t socialize a lot at LCC. For example no Darkroom Bar after lectures, no exhibitions and so on. I discovered all of that when I started my second year and then my Uni experience became literally perfect and London felt even more like home to me. I got sad thinking about the loooong long summer ahead (doing an internship in Germany) without all of this. And then Corona crushed my plans. It took me quite a while though to understand the extent to which it crushed my plans and the newly won community feeling.
Saturday, March 14 was when I finally understood what was happening to us. Before that, I had enough distraction going on. But on Saturday I heard for the first time that someone was self-isolating because of Covid-19. And it was also the day where I received the first call from my German grandparents saying to me: “Are you seriously still on the island? You need to come home ASAP!” Germany has had more cases and deaths than the UK and the German government has taken more steps towards closing schools, lockdown, etc.
I denied the upcoming decision I had to make, but my boyfriend brought me back to reality by casually popping the following question on Saturday night: “Which country are you going to be in when the borders close?” My jaw dropped and, soon after, the first tears. I couldn’t believe that I was able to consume 3-4 hours of input about the Corona virus A DAY without reflecting what it meant for my individual situation.
Then, on the same day, Germany shut the borders to Austria, Switzerland and France. I knew that I had to act quickly but the confusion got bigger and the feeling of overwhelm got stronger. By Tuesday, I had received five worried and demanding phone calls from different relatives and was starting to stress out big time. The German borders were going to shut down eventually. The embassy had told me that my passport would allow me to travel into the country anytime but there might not be any flights, or even trains or buses available.
Flight prices were jumping from £30 to £250 and my mind from Hamburg to London every minute. I was writing pro and con lists, including letting my single mum down, benefiting from the German health system and how long the gyms would remain open in each country (shame on me, I know). But nothing got me closer to a decision. Until I read that getting a test for the virus and a result takes two days in Germany. Especially after hearing from my friend in East London who had all the Corona symptoms and was supposed to live with them for seven days before calling 111 again to be in a waiting line for another eternity and then maybe getting a test.
Which led me to book a flight and, after a long and very complicated journey, I arrived in Hamburg on Friday late at night.
Sylphia Basak (Canadian student in Toronto): March 13-20
I almost didn’t make it back into Toronto. My original plan was to go from London to Brussels, then Vienna before heading back to London to catch my flight home for the Easter holidays. As I was boarding the Eurostar to Brussels, I got a notification on my phone, telling me that effective Friday, March 13, America is closing its borders. I then got a phone call. My mom telling me to cancel my trip. ‘A little late for that’, I told her as the train was passing through the channel. Of course America is not Canada, but it felt as though things were only going to get more drastic. I’ve never hated being right more. As soon as I got to Brussels, I cancelled the Austria part of my trip and rescheduled my flight from Saturday the 21st to Tuesday the 17th. Lying in my bed that night, all I could do was cross my fingers and take deep breaths trying to ease the sense of panic that gripped me and the entire world. “Please, just hold off the travel bans until Tuesday,” was the only thing running through my mind.
I woke up to the sweet sounds of CNN’s non-stop Covid-19 coverage. Wolf Blitzer consulting medical professionals is still ringing in my ears. When I step outside, there is an air of apocalyptic worry. People leaving grocery stores with litre water bottles and six giant baguettes. How very European. The place I was staying at was occupied by guests who also had their plans somewhat ruined by the crisis. This was a bonding point and, since all the restaurants in Belgium closed, we cooked dinner together that weekend and bonded over our lives taking unexpected turns in this time of turmoil. Wolf Blitzer, of course, still playing in the background.
The day I was due to leave, Global News reported that Canadian PM Justin Trudeau would be announcing new travel restrictions. I didn’t exhale most of that morning. It was only until I saw the press conference and heard about the rerouting of airplanes as well as the closing of borders to foreign internationals that I could finally relax a little. I was going home, and, while London as a city didn’t seem to have shifted much in energy, Heathrow most certainly did. Stills from the airport looked like a scene straight out of Contagion. Masks, even hazmat suits, everywhere.
The atmosphere was a very quiet kind of tense. No-one (including myself) would dare to even clear their throat. I slept through my flight; I just wouldn’t risk having to go to the bathroom.
When I landed I was immediately handed a sheet recommending me to isolate for 14 days. I was then welcomed with a massive herd of people in customs whose flights, of course, were redirected. After being asked about whether I showed any symptoms (I hadn’t and still am not showing symptoms, and, even if I had, the way I was asked made me think I might be arrested if I said yes). I was let go. After getting my luggage, I went to meet my mom and was greeted with a warm smile and an “I missed you”, but no hug. Obviously. I would be receiving as little human contact as possible for the next 14 days. But whatever, I still got home.
Not even a full week has passed and I feel a looming sense of cabin fever. I’ve already given myself a haircut. I’m reading three books at once and my only real escape is long isolated walks. And even the weather seems to match the gloomy mood of the people. But when I stepped outside for the first time, I was actually surprised to see everyone else on the beach’s boardwalk as well, walking their dogs or strolling with their friends and family, always keeping their distance. But, of course, with all but a few restaurants and bars being closed, long walks are really the only form of interaction we are allowed.
I didn’t realise what the effect of no physical contact would take until I was in such close proximity to the people I love, or even seeing them on FaceTime and Instagram, and not being able to hug them. “So close but so far” has never applied to my life more than it has now. In the meantime, I use a weighted blanket and pretend it has the same effect as someone’s arms.
Health wise, we are a “low-risk” family for Covid-19. No one in my house is over 50, we’re stocked up on groceries and both of my parents are able to work from home while my 10 year-old brother doesn’t have school, which the Ontario government has suspended for three weeks. We take vitamins and keep our distance. A concern I didn’t think about before this all happened is the mental health aspect. What isolation and atmosphere of fear and worry does to our minds. Especially with people, like myself, my brother, and many of my friends who already suffer from mental illnesses. My anxiety has seen its worst days in four years, and my brother’s OCD has started to flare up mere months after his therapy. While we should all be exercising caution and doing our part, I worry that our 24-hour news cycles and live death tolls do more harm than good. People who aren’t in a good state mentally will not take care of themselves physically, which should be everyone’s number one priority.
I’m trying to find new ways to take care of myself and others. Right now music has been a form of therapy for me. I plan on talking to at least one person outside of my family for the next week and a half, and continue to daydream about working my way back into the world and being greeted with hugs. I think we all are.
Dina Zubi (Norwegian student in Oslo): March 13-19
My name is Dina. I’m an MA Arts and Lifestyle Journalism student at London College of Communication originally from Oslo, Norway.
It now feels like everything has changed. The threat of Coronavirus has become more and more prominent over the past few weeks, but for me personally, the last few days have really made an impact on me. I was supposed to go home to Norway for the Easter holidays and had been looking forward to that. But now it seems like that is becoming increasingly impossible. My home country has gone into almost complete lockdown and is now one of the countries with the highest percentage of infected people. Airports might be closing soon and all schools, sporting events, bars, restaurants, cinemas, even police stations are already closed. Only the grocery stores, pharmacies and somewhat surprisingly, but also typical of Norway, the wine monopolies (the state-run alcohol shops) are open. I’ve been going back and forth all day about whether I should try to find a flight home as quick as possible or ride out the storm in my flat share in London. It doesn’t help that my parents have completely different opinions on the matter either. If I go home, I have to be quarantined for two weeks, even if I show no symptoms, which admittedly isn’t very tempting. I might also be quarantined when I come back to the UK, and up to a month in isolation isn’t something I would willingly sign up for. On the other hand, if I stay, I might have to be quarantined in my flat share, which isn’t the most appealing of situations either.
I keep reading the news and scrolling through social media, which is making me increasingly worried and unsure. Should I be starting to self-isolate already? In Norwegian news, they are announcing that they are looking for additional medical staff, particularly students and recently retired nurses and doctors. It is quite moving to see people volunteer and work together in uncertain times, to band together in the hopes of overcoming the crisis with minimal casualties.
After speaking to friends and family at home, I decided to book a ticket home for tomorrow. About an hour later, the Norwegian Prime Minister announced that they are closing down airports and harbors for all but Norwegian citizens, in a bid to tackle the Coronavirus outbreak. I spend the rest of the evening packing and getting ready to leave.
I travel to Heathrow by tube as I normally would, but it is a strange atmosphere there, as if people are suspicious of each other. The airport is relatively relaxed, though there is an abnormal amount of people with masks, gloves or other protective gear. On the flight home, I run into five people I know, all of whom are students travelling back to Norway while they can. At Gardermoen, Oslo’s airport, the Home Guard is there, checking passports before travelers leave the baggage reclaim area. Only Norwegian passport holders or residents are allowed to enter the country at this time, information boards tell us. A polite soldier asks to see my passport, and I hand it to him. He looks at me somewhat exasperated, ‘can you open it please?’, he asks me. I realize I am not yet caught up with this new way of interacting with people.
When I exit, my parents are there waiting for me. I smile and wave, and it feels so strange not to hug them, but we settle for a strange elbow greeting. As we get home, I am glad I made the decision to travel back to Norway. It just feels safer, like it’s the right place for me to be.
Day one of my 14-day quarantine, and right now it just feels like a normal lazy day at home, spent mostly in bed with my laptop. I’m sure I’ll start to feel a bit bored and claustrophobic in a few days though. My mother is working from home, providing a constant background noise of video meetings with awkward technical complications. At 6pm every evening, especially in the more crowded areas, hordes of people go out onto their balconies, gardens or open up their windows to applaud the health services, bus drivers, store clerks, and others keeping the country going, for a full minute. There has also been news segments about old ladies sewing reusable protective coats for medical staff, and students creating makeshift volunteer organizations to help those that are unable to leave their homes. Initiatives like these prove that the majority of people are banding together in these difficult times, which is quite moving.
Day two of my 14-day quarantine. I went for a walk in the park today, with a friend who is also quarantined. It’s starting to become spring, and it’s beautiful and sunny outside, which makes it even harder to stay indoors. We are permitted to go for walks outside if we stay at least one meter away from other people and avoid crowded places (though there aren’t really any of those at the minute). The government announced that breaking quarantine regulations can now lead to fines or, in the most extreme cases, prison time if you pass on the virus to someone who dies from it. This new legislation really highlights the severity of the situation. The government has also ordered everyone who was staying at secondary homes, such as cabins or summer houses, to return to their permanent home, as there is less medical staff and equipment in the smaller towns.
Day three of my 14-day quarantine. It’s interesting how we get so lazy when there is very little to do. I’m definitely starting to feel that. On TV, there is an incessant stream of Coronavirus-related news: what home workout equipment are people buying, how are theatres and venues going to survive, another public figure has tested positive, etc. The boredom of being stuck at home is one thing, but if this is the only news coverage for months, I might actually lose my mind.
I went for a walk today in a nearby wooded area and it was very crowded. Apparently everyone had the same idea. It kind of defeats the purpose of social distancing by closing down restaurants and bars, because everyone has just moved to the outdoor spaces. I also spoke to my grandmother today (over the phone). She’s 87 and just got out of hospital. So, safe to say, she is advised not to leave the house much these days. Her health is my biggest worry during this pandemic, as I’m sure many others feel the same concern for their elderly family members.
Ellen Lund-Petersen (Danish student living in London): Week 1
We are an all Danish household. Andrea, Louise and me, Ellen. We’re all students, Louise is doing her masters at Royal College of Arts, Andrea her Ph.D at University City of London and I’m doing my BA in Journalism at LCC. We moved into our flat in Fulham in February 2020. So, by the time that the spreading of the coronavirus – or Covid-19 – became critical, we’d only known each other for a month.
So now we’re here, self-isolation, social distancing, handwashing, the whole ordeal. The news started rolling in from Denmark of how to best deal with the situation, and we decided to take the same precautions as all of Denmark.
First things first, we needed to make sure that we didn’t become couch potatoes. We made a day planner, on a huge piece of paper and put it up somewhere where it cannot be ignored. We keep tabs on how the government in the UK and in Denmark deals with the crisis, and we painted our own world map to follow the spreading of Covid-19
We have daily yoga, walks and a few goals – I’m learning how to do a proper handstand. So, as the world is turning upside down, so am I. We check in with each other every morning, allow ourselves to take downtime, but we have four daily hours to do work, write, paint, sort out funding applications and the like.
Everyone in Denmark is encouraged to self-isolate. The prime minister held a press conference urging everyone to stay indoors for the following 14 days and to stay calm and not empty the supermarkets as they will stay open.
The last part is heavily ignored, and social media is flooded with footage of supermarkets being ripped apart by panicking Danes, all plant based products are however untouched, make of that what you want.
In London, Louise and I are on a nice walk in the sunshine. Our other flatmate Andrea calls us to inform us on the situation at home, and we discuss the option to go home to be with our families for a bit, but agree to wait and see how the situation evolves. We’ve figured out how to turn our living room into a home theatre, we’re calm.
People from home are texting us all to make sure we’re ok and how the situation is over here. It’s difficult to explain that we’re self-isolating on own initiative and that London is doing “business as usual”.
My friends from the restaurant I used to work at are all moved to zero hour contracts, their income at this point will be cut in half. I’m worried about that more than the actual virus, and Louise and I are doing our morning yoga. We are determined in keeping our schedule.
I’m wearing my Fitbit fitness tracker to see how much we actually move around, so far it is depressing. It keeps reminding me to move more, in a small three bedroom apartment options are limited, but I’m sticking to it for now.
They closed the schools in Denmark, #Covid-19Walkout is trending on Twitter in the UK. The contrast is remarkable, and we, somehow, find ourselves in the middle. The discussion of returning home is still going and it causes a divide between us. I have been in the country for almost three years, so I am less concerned about the situation as I have more trust in the system of the country than my fellow Danes. Downing Street is to have daily press conferences as of today, and we were ready by the screen at 5, and at 6 we were disappointed.
I had enough of my tracker buzzing at me so I went for a run at the Thames. Luckily, with my slow but steady pace, I could still practise social distancing, as I’m slower than most runners, but definitely faster than walkers.
Restaurants are closed in Denmark, and so are the borders of the country. Of course, all Danish citizens are still allowed into the country, but this does not stop panic from spreading – at least that is what we see on social media. Danes are called home from all over the world, except for those who are settled in other countries. We’re settled, so we stay. Our Vinyasa flow is improving, and we’re becoming quite happy with doing our morning yoga.
Supermarkets are starting to be emptied out here as well, though. We had a very disappointing trip to Sainsbury’s today, not a single can of beans, lentils or chickpeas were left, no vegetables or pasta either. We’ve given up on toilet paper long ago. Luckily, we have a 48 pack in our flat, we bought it in Wilko way before this, as we are always on the lookout for cheap toilet paper – it is very expensive in the UK.
Something wild is happening in Denmark today. Something that has never happened before. Our Queen is speaking to the nation, she hasn’t spoken on any day other than New Year’s Eve since she was crowned, the speech may have been short, but it was powerful.
At 2:00am this morning, Andrea left the country. She went home to her family and we are very understanding, but also sad to see her go. Yoga goes on and we are off to buy a bike for Louise today. None of us have seen the inside of any kind of public transport for a week, and we are desperate to be able to move around safely. So, while news is spreading of military being put on hold in the UK and all events being cancelled in Denmark – gatherings of over 10 people are no longer allowed – we’re planning to bike to Richmond and see some nature. The walls in our flat are beginning to become tighter.
It is now day six of isolation, and I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting upon this whole situation. It is a serious one, and I’m really happy that I’m with people who take the situation serious, but also allow room for humour and silliness during this time.
We may not have known each other very well before we entered lockdown, but we have grown very close over the last week, and support each other. My main worry through all of this has been my mental health.
Being isolated is difficult, and motivating yourself to keep going when the world is in crisis is all well. I like to joke to myself through a lot of this, but it doesn’t mean that I’m not worried and that I don’t understand the severity of what is going on.
Luckily, we keep in contact with the Danish Embassy and we know how to navigate the political landscape. Steering clear of fake news and mass hysteria has never been more important, and I want to keep a little bit of these diaries to talk about the more serious parts of self-isolation.
I am worried about my education, the hospitality industry and people continuously dying from a disease we cannot combat.
I think I’ll learn a lot about balancing that worry with simultaneously living a life during the next few weeks.
Ellen over and out and in good spirits so far
Rosie Boussert (English student living in London): Week 1
It has been for weeks now that there has been fear among the UK about the spread of Coronavirus. But since the start of this week, a sheet of unimpeded doom lies among the country.
My name is Rosie Bossert, a 20 year old student journalist living in Camden with my family. As somebody who has always had this deep rooted fear of apocalypse, this is a living nightmare for me, a fear that has now been forced onto the rest of the world through the most unchangeable thing – reality.
From Monday, the attitude of the government has been gradually worrisome. Firstly, being concerned with the economical impact of Covid-19. Then, coming to terms with the profound effect on human lives – advising the vulnerable and elderly to self isolate in their homes for at least 12 weeks.
Tuesday saw a watershed moment in the policies regarding the general public, with Boris Johnson advising people to avoid offices, pubs, restaurants, theatres, etc., and only leave home when absolutely necessary. One policy the prime minister was seemingly trying to avoid was the closure of all schools, which on Wednesday he was forced to carry out.
From the public, concerns about the speed and direness of these policies is widespread. We only have to look to Italy and China as an insight to our inevitable future. Why not begin now why were slightly ahead?
Due to the self-isolation and avoidance of pubs and clubs not being made an actual law, there are some people choosing to use this time off of work for a booze up, meeting in groups and, no doubt, spreading Covid-19.
When I asked my auntie living next to centre point what the streets are like near Oxford Street (usually one of the busiest places in London), she says they are dead, barely anybody is walking around. But, on the High Street in Camden, it’s still busy. This could be because of the variety of supermarkets. People from every walk of life are rushing to panic buy. Not giving much regard to the suggested two metre distance between citizens.
On a more personal account, since the weekend I have been social distancing and isolating where possible. As my mum is under the vulnerable category, I have been more aware than some on the possible routes for spreading and catching the virus. Possibly verging on OCD and paranoia (no exaggeration) and I am becoming nearly unbearable to live with.
Breaking the isolation to get exercise in Regents Park, we walked for hours, avoiding people and closed spaces but reveling in the fresh air, as if diving into a cold pool on a hot day.
You may wonder why she would rebel against this advice. The decision doesn’t come lightly and the day was strategically planned. Mental health is the answer. For most people, being stuck in a flat for more than a day is torture. I can’t speak for anybody else but for me, my mum and sister we go stir crazy after one Sunday at home.
I am lucky to have my family around me for support, but of course a lot of people living away from home don’t. This is why at this time we need to actively care about the wellbeing of others.
It seems that actually settling into this seemingly post apocalyptic and surreal world is harder than we could have ever believed.
Anna Komitska (Bulgarian student living in London): March 19
Written by Anna Komitska, second year student on the BA Photography course at UAL’s London College of Communication. This is a summary of the latest March updates I have been monitoring regarding the corona virus outbreak. It focuses on the pandemic’s effects and the government’s response as observed in London and in my native city, Sofia, Bulgaria.
As the increasing outbreak of Covid-19 continues, countries across the globe have been introducing extreme measures to keep their citizens inside their homes. Amidst such global panic, the UK seems to have been standing alone in the fight against the deadly pandemic, as Boris Johnson has faced criticism over his slow reactions to decrease the chances of the virus causing more deaths. Meanwhile, the government in my native country of Bulgaria is threatening residents with imprisonment and fees for those who do not comply with health and safety rules.
Today is March 19, and, as I am typing from the supposed safety of my London flat, 10 Downing Street is denying rumours that the country is to go on lockdown this Friday. Earlier today, it was announced that over 65,000 former medical staff have been called back to fully paid roles to support the NHS frontline, while big hotel chains are preparing to turn their properties into temporary hospitals to provide emergency bed space and staff accommodation.
One could argue that the government should have already put more serious measures in place, apart from sharing advice on the correct use of hand sanitizer, with cases surging to over 2,600 infected individuals. As a friend of mine put it on Monday, ‘England seems quite casual about it,’ and there are those who may claim that the state is being careful not to sustain panic.
The past week has been reflective of national panic buying, as shelves with cleaning products, toilet paper and pasta have been left empty. Consequently, retailers are introducing restrictions on the number of products allowed per customer, as well as changing store opening times and online delivery slots to prioritize elderly and vulnerable buyers.
I have since been doing my grocery shopping once the shops open, at 7:00am. Food delivery company Deliveroo introduced no-contact services to minimize person-to-person physical contact. In addition, Facebook users have united in groups according to boroughs where volunteers offer to bring food and medicine to elderly people’s homes and share photographs of supermarkets where baby food and bread are still available.
Although lockdown is seemingly put on hold, public transport services in London have been reduced. I received emails on Tuesday from local museums, cinemas and theatres regarding the cancellation of upcoming events. As a result, many theatre venues now worry about possible financial devastation, as lack of funding leaves them dependent on the audiences’ donations.
As a student at the University of the Arts London, the possible closure of cultural venues hits close to home; and my social media accounts have been flooded with freelancing artists left financially vulnerable and unsure about their future, as little funding is provided for artists by state institutions. Moreover, tutors all over the country are preparing to deliver all lectures and workshops online until the end of the summer term and minimize the disruptions to students’ courses.
While England has been quick to protest food rationing, my family back in Bulgaria has been holding their breath at the thought, as they already lived through months of hyper-inflation and queuing before empty shelves at 4:00am back in 1996. The political atmosphere at the time meant closed borders and restricted travel too. I was supposed to fly home next Monday, March 23, and as I was cancelling my flights earlier this week, my mother expressed her anxiety as she wondered when she would see me next. That was when I was hit with the reality of the pandemic, and the uncertainty that it has brought along.
As the UK government has been accused of carelessness with regards to the gravity of the situation, Bulgaria has been demonized for the media and the government’s every effort to instil unprecedented horror in its citizens. At the start of February 2020, a Crisis Head Office was established by epidemiologists who would announce the global spread of the virus whilst highlighting Bulgaria’s alleged control of the situation. The media, in collaboration with health experts and politicians, would air menacing announcements to remind the increasingly aging Bulgarian population of the grave consequences of the virus.
The news reported that a state private jet had been sent to the region of Wuhan, China to evacuate nationals who had not contracted the virus. Days later, on March 8, the first Coronavirus case in Bulgaria is announced.
On March 13, the government declares a state of emergency for 30 days and quarantine is made mandatory. As individuals are caught not complying with health and safety measures, all public spaces and entertainment venues are closed, except for food shops, banks, pharmacies and petrol stations.
Customers are permitted to queue outside the entrances at a specific distance. Education institutions are shut down and tutors are expected to adopt the methods of online teaching. Similarly, employees are urged to work from home. Businesses complain about these regulations, as Bulgaria has not previously invested in digitizing services in the public sectors. Bureaucracy is still prevalent, where the administration services are predominantly based on paperwork, and is yet to introduce a Government Digital Service.
On March 17, the number of Covid-19 patients reaches 67. Among those who have carried it into the country are UK and Israel nationals flying in for a ski vacation in Bansko. All ski resorts are subsequently closed, while a British family is left stranded after being refused to board a flight home by WizzAir staff and passengers under suspicion that they carry the virus.
Meanwhile, doctors launch national protests because of low pay and lack of protective equipment, such as face masks and gloves. As a result, all such items are fully sold out from pharmacies and appear online to be resold for profit. The government is quick to agree on a budget to ensure the production of sanitary equipment in hospitals; an increase of doctors’ monthly pay – additional 1,000 lev, or £474, per person – is agreed upon.
A flood of populist appeals takes over the political stage whilst the government repetitively underlines the extreme difficulties in dealing with financial shortages. Shortly after, the EU announces that Bulgaria has received €800,000 (£726,740) for the fight against the virus, and that part of these funds have already been used. Government officials are quickly accused of corruption.
The government votes for stern measures against infringers of health and safety regulations – imprisonment of up to five years and a fine of 10,000 lev, or £4,733, are introduced. Police forces escort citizens, supposed to stay in quarantine, back to their homes after being found in pubs, as the latter have illegally remained open.
It is easier to force people into self-isolation, as the healthcare services would be unable to cope with the potential influx of corona cases. From March 18 onwards, Bulgaria’s air space has been partially closed. A convoy brings back over 50 trucks after spending several days at border checkpoints, unable to move forward.
Whereas the NHS is feared to be unprepared for the predicted number of corona cases following the UK’s slow response to the outbreak, Bulgaria’s population has raised complaints against the government for purposely instigating media frenzy and causing unprecedented fear.
Having lived through strict travel restrictions in its communist years, complete lack of outside communication concerning the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, and empty shops throughout the political crisis of 1996-97, Bulgarians find coping with the situation psychologically exhausting, as ever more severe measures are being set in motion, such as the potential restrictions to the elderly to leave their homes at all until further notice.
The comparison between these two governments and their tactics points to the conclusion that there seems to be no middle ground in the fight against an international health crisis. People globally are in fear of the unknown, as they remain isolated in their homes for an indefinite period of time.
Izzie Price (English student in Isle of Wight): March 20
For the past few years, I’ve comfortably straddled two diametrically opposing worlds: namely, the over-crowded, buzzing, vibrant metropolis that is London (where I have just completed a Postgraduate Degree in Arts & Lifestyle Journalism at London College of Communication), and the blissfully calm oasis that is the Isle of Wight.
Now that I’m self-isolating in the latter, I’ve come to realise that this straddling of two worlds – this double life, as it were – has given me a unique perspective on Covid-19.
On the one hand, up until last week I was one of millions of Londoners witnessing the effects of the virus first-hand. I was traveling on the tube along with my fellow commuters, all of us ‘tube surfing’ as we tried not to touch any of the bars or poles. I saw the empty supermarket shelves, and joined my fellow city inhabitants in washing our hands compulsively at any chance we got, muttering ‘Happy Birthday’ under our breath as we all scrubbed our hands raw in a bizarre, dystopian unison.
Now that I’m on the Isle of Wight, it almost goes without saying that I still do all those things (with the exception of the tube – island living, and all that.). But the overarching communal feeling down here is about as different to London as it could possibly be.
Whenever I tell people that my family lives on the Isle of Wight, I’m often greeted with “But don’t they feel isolated down there?” My answer is usually: well, no, they don’t. It’s just over two hours to London, which is quicker than equivalent journeys from Yorkshire and many other parts of the UK. But in this instance, I have to say: yes, we do feel isolated.
In many ways, that’s quite a comforting feeling – and I am incredibly well aware of how lucky and privileged I am to have family living somewhere that’s both remote, and easily accessible from London. The island isn’t untouched – there have been cases down here – but it feels comparatively isolated. Needless to say, I am touching wood manically as I write this, while also counting my lucky stars that I’m able to be here.
This feeling of isolation (that presumably comes from the necessity of crossing a body of water to get here) could be what is contributing to the slightly alarming feeling of calm that pervades the island. No one’s panic-buying (or if they are, they’re doing it so subtly that, thus far, they’re going undetected). Or at least, they’re not panic-buying toilet roll; my dad did note that PC World is rapidly selling out of printers and ink (the joys of working from home!). But broadly speaking, it seems to be business as usual. When my dad got back from the main town of Newport yesterday, he seemed amazed that the cafes and restaurants were as busy as ever. Social distancing? Not so much.
On the one hand, absence of panic is a good thing. But on the other, let’s be honest: the Isle of Wight has a very elderly population. It’s a popular retirement destination, due to the quietude and healthful sea air – which means that a great proportion of IoW inhabitants are surely at risk. And then there’s the fact that there’s a grand total of one hospital (St. Mary’s, Newport) on the island. With the port of Southampton a 25 minute ferry ride away, that’s normally perfectly adequate. But we’re not living in normal times, and if the ferries stop running – either due to a form of transport lockdown or the virus itself infecting the ferry staff – this is an issue of serious concern.
Permanent island dwellers probably think I – a London dweller who only last week witnessed those famously empty pasta shelves – am being too careful. I personally think the island could benefit from a little more sense of social responsibility. But then again: do any of us really know? The unknowable, unprecedented nature of this virus means that, ultimately, no one knows how best to respond. All we can do is keep feeling our way in the best way we are able, acting on expert advice – showing consideration and compassion for those at risk all the way.
Viktoria Bielawa (Polish student living in London): Week 1
My name is Viktoria Bielawa, I’m originally from Krakow yet I have lived in London for the past 16 years. I am currently studying MA Media, Communication and Critical Practice at LCC (UAL). I consider myself more a Londoner above anything else, yet as others who feel estranged from either nationality, would agree that you don’t really belong to either nation.
It has nearly been a week since I began the self-quarantine in my family home. Since moving to this vibrant city, I have never seen such panic and emptiness, both in the streets and in people’s eyes.
Not a single soul is seen outside at this desolate time. The only congregation you can catch a glimpse of are at the local Tesco, clearing the shelves of toiletries, pasta and perishable items – stockpiling like it’s World War Z. My parents, who were brought up in 1980s Poland, reminisce the times of Communism, and how they would have to wake up at 3:00am on a school night to stand in a queue for their local shop, for a chance of buying groceries with their allocated item vouchers when they arrived – which sometimes was not until 4:00pm. The shelves were continuously empty, there was no such thing as real coffee or chocolate, and toilet paper was grey, single-ply and barely absorbent.
Their reminiscence is slowly becoming a British reality. Supermarkets are establishing quantity control “to help give everyone access to essential items” like toilet paper, tissues and pasta in particular. This control was brought by government policies to help the elderly, customers with lower incomes and most vulnerable to the virus, as they are less likely to have the ability to stock-pile items for the foreseeable future.
London has always been seen as the city of hope, opportunity and equality. Yet recently it has been radically transformed to a city full of fear and panic. The deserted streets, that once beamed with life, have become grey and mournful. The local shops, small businesses and companies are struggling to live another day without regular customers and income from clients, and in particular, any help from the government.
The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has announced on BBC News for everyone to “avoid social gatherings like pubs, restaurants and the cinema. To stay at home and avoid any unnecessary social contact” yet what he failed to address was how these small businesses, restaurants and shops are supposed to survive through the pandemic with no income and with mortgages/rents to pay.
Unfortunately, my parents are among those categories. With the uncertainty of the foreseeable future there is a lot of tension in my household. My mum and I have been forced to take leaves of absence from work without pay, and are currently financially dependent on my dad, who has many other worries with his company on top of our family’s health and wellbeing.
Many years ago, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease which causes my skin to continuously produce excess skin cells – yet many more know it as ‘psoriasis’. I have battled with it since I can remember, yet for the past three weeks it has been considerably worse. My hands began to crack and bleed due to the dry and peeling flakes on my palms. My whole body is covered in red patches, which regardless of the fact how horrendous it looks, it is also overwhelmingly itchy. Yet despite the usual effects of the condition, it is my immune systems that is the most worrisome during this pandemic. Due to my condition, my immune system is suppressed and fighting against itself, thus being unable to fight any other illness which I may encounter. I am worried that if I step to the outside world, I may catch the virus very quickly, and it may be fatal.
I am forced to wear gloves whenever leaving the house, people look at me like I am over-exaggerating, roll their eyes when walking past, whispering “she’s a bit paranoid, aye?” I am unable to use had sanitizer or soap when outdoors as it causes me too much pain, thus being more vulnerable to the infection. However, people are too quick to judge, especially in times where compassion and selflessness are most valued. Which for me, the best choice of action is to just stay home.
We need to remember that we are all in this together, as one world and one nation of the human race. We have an obligation to help those who are most vulnerable, those who sacrifice their lives and time with family to help those in need. The quicker we start to care about one another the quicker we can beat this pandemic and return to our normal functioning lives of freedom.
May we all stay safe during this unprecedented time.
Eve Hebron (Welsh student in Llandudno): March 14-19
My name is Eve Hebron. I’m an MA Arts and Lifestyle Journalism student at LCC (UAL). Last week, I was visiting friends in Paris (where I used to live), before the situation we are currently experiencing rapidly unfolded. I’m now staying with my parents in Llandudno, a seaside town in North Wales that relies heavily on tourism and is very likely to take a massive hit during this period.
I arrive back in Wales today for the Easter holidays, usually a time to appreciate blossoming daffodils and the first slithers of sunshine. This year is different. As I leave London Euston station, I noticed there was an obvious decline in train travelers. People sat with an empty seat between them, coffee shops were sparse. The news screen repeatedly flashes up with the number of ‘British cases’, and my friends in France inundate me with texts, of how France is likely to be the next country to go on lockdown, having announced on Thursday evening that schools and universities are due to close from Monday, and bars/clubs/cinemas from midnight tonight. To picture such an alien scene seems impossible in Paris, a city that thrives off joie de vivre. It makes me sad, confused and anxious as to what may happen next.
I woke up to a text from a friend, apparently drones are flying around Spain shouting down at people to return home if they are out and about. My stomach turns as I envisage such a dystopian image. One of the most difficult things during this period, is not knowing how long it will last.
The difference between countries with regards to rules, regulations, and rumours is overwhelming and makes me want to go back to sleep. I head to my local supermarket to pick up some bits, but there’s no milk or pasta. I wonder if stockpiling is a British reaction, we’re not even on lockdown and people have gone into panic mode. It seems somewhat selfish to me, but I’m not surprised.
I was along the promenade, past the many hotels that line the shore. Usually, at this time of year, they’re being painted, their gardens are being tended to, and coach loads of older holiday makers arrive, giddy for their weekend by the seaside. This year as I walk past, I notice the many vacancies signs; hoteliers clinging on to the last hope of a holiday booking.
My friend texts me explaining her plan to escape to the countryside with friends, she seems agitated by the thought of being cooped within the city for an unknowing amount of time. Less than a week ago, we were enjoying a beer on a terrace.
It’s been confirmed that from tomorrow at midday Paris is going into lockdown. My friend sends me a video of army trucks patrolling the streets in the suburbs and watching the footage feels like a punch in the heart. I visit Tesco with my Dad to get something for our dinner, but the shelves are almost bare. Staff rush about trying to restock, and I hear one customer whine to a sales assistant about the lack of Pot Noodles. We are able to get out hands on some bits to make homemade pizza, then head home and make pizzas together – which was fun and tastily rewarding.
Even though we are not in an official lockdown, many cafes and restaurant are giving up hope and closing up – a decision I feel is sensible. The prime minister has advised that we “avoid” such places, yet the lack of enforcement is frustrating. British people don’t like being told what to do, and this vagueness gives them permission to continue their days as normal. My Mum, who does a lot of work within our community, gives some local residents a call to see how they are. Everyone appears to be in good spirits, but I fear this is the calm before the storm.
I wake up to the news that Glastonbury is cancelled, a festival I usually attend. Knowing how much hard work was put into trying to keep the event scheduled, I am hit with the realisation that what we are currently experiencing, is likely to last some time. It is announced that from Friday, schools in England, Wales and Scotland will be closed. I speak with a friend who’s a teacher at a secondary school and she says 16 members of staff have been off today. This news comes with a lack information as to how teachers and parents are expected to deal with such closures, and my friend seems sad and disappointed that her role as an educator has been left in such a vulnerable position.
Today I wake up in a more positive mood. Perhaps I’ll take up Norwegian or learn how to play the violin, I think to myself, but the ideas fade as I see videos of NHS workers crying on the news. I decide to instead, to call my local voluntary services and offer myself up. I watch the news, but feel infuriated by the sheer amount of fluff the prime minister is spouting.
Throughout the day, we’re promised a plan of action with regards to how school closures, but by 6:00pm there is no update. I decide to call a friend in Paris and we share stories over a glass of wine. We add another friend to the conversation, and before long, we are having our own virtual ‘Skypero’. We discuss how this must become a regular occurrence if we all wish to remain sane.
Lucy Haydon (English student living in Horsham): March 16-20
I hold the thermometer at eye level. I haven’t used one of these since GCSE science. I Google: ‘Is 39.9ºC a high temperature?’ A resounding yes apparently! So I decide I probably won’t check it again, as going over 40ºC is supposed to be particularly dangerous and I don’t want that to happen.
I thought I had felt ill in lectures today, but not enough to notice a real difference. Honestly, until this point I was avoiding the news about the corona virus, on the basis that it basically sounded like a cold and could not possibly be as decimating as everyone was making it out to be.
12½ conspiracy theories later, I know exactly how this virus got here.
Peering out of the car window, over my handy anti-virus scarf (accessorise page 2019). My friend Ti works just inside. Normally I would go in and say hi, but not today. The car door swings open, ‘they’ve just changed the quarantine to 14 days, are you sure you don’t want anything else?’
‘No thanks’ I reply. Luckily my other flatmate has a knack for stockpiling throughout the year, let alone during quarantine, so I don’t think any of us will be needing loo roll this side of the rapture.
A total of 48 unread messages, including ones from both my bosses – I work the weekends in a local pub, and the rest of the time doing illustrations for an accessory designer. The first did not actually believe I was ill, and repeatedly asked if I could come in, until I listed all my symptoms in great detail, and explained the impossibility of getting a doctor’s note in the current situation. The second has not been much more understanding.
I look up from my phone for the first time in a few hours. An argument between my flatmates is brewing about how long each home members quarantine should be, based on the greatly varying information and their particular circumstances. “Well my parents are old, so it wouldn’t be right for me to go and visit them.” “I have a cough, but I can’t afford not to work so unless they notice it, I’ll be going in anyway.” The fact that none of us have a choice is neither here nor there.
Out the window two police cars pull up. This is very unusual for our sleepy neighbourhood, I mean over half of them are retired and the others probably couldn’t be bothered to do anything illegal. For a while all eight of them just sort of stand around looking dramatic and talking in muffled tones. Detective shows have lied to me. There was nothing dramatic about this.
Next thing I know, the boy next door is sat handcuffed in the back of a police car (we suspect he is a secret drug lord, who employed many runners and grew numerous cocaine plants in his garden). But then we are prone to exaggeration. But it might explain the pungent smell that lingers around their house.
I begin to notice that other people may not be taking Boris’ words of warning quite so literally. I spoke to my grandma’s cousins (three ladies, all over 80, who never married and have always lived in the same house in the village The Archers was based on). Vera asked if I had been swimming lately. “No,” I replied.
“At least I’ll be able to go back to the gym next week,” my flat mate encouraged us all. The gym being according to social media, the worst place to contract the virus.
We celebrate a fake Christmas to pass the time, including opening all my online deliveries of carrot conditioner from beauty bay. I am then forced to watch Trolls – never again.
The boredom has really set in. I begin to wonder whether the world will ever be the same. If there can be life after death? We cannot work, or sleep, or travel. Life is ‘suspended’. How much longer can this go on? At the moment life feels like a surreal dream, a week ago I would not even have thought it possible for our busy, connected world to be put on hold.
On the news, I’m hearing we might stay I quarantine until 2021, when a vaccine can be circulated. For the most part I am relieved that we all have to stop and take a breath – to realise we’re not in control. I hope we can learn to focus on what matters, family, friendship, kindness. Nothing was ever sure of certain- it is only now that we can see that.
Caroline Edwards (American student living in London): Week 1
When I decided to attend UAL back in December 2019, it never once crossed my mind that there would be a pandemic. I worried about my visa not being accepted, finding housing, or making sure my undergraduate sent my degree in time, but at 22 years old, I never expected this to happen in my lifetime.
As an American who grew up in Portland, Oregon, I witnessed the tragedy of 9/11 and an economic recession, but this is something that didn’t seem plausible in 2020. But yet, here we are. I’ll be recording my thoughts as I isolate in London, where I’m getting my MA in Arts and Lifestyle Journalism, and where I lay in my bed for 20 hours a day as I re-watch Gilmore Girls as I practice social distancing.
When the first few cases in Europe were announced, I was anxious, but thought this would all be over by now. I kept up my usual routine with a few extra precautions (hand sanitizer, washing my hands religiously, and going out slightly less). I kept this going until Monday, March 16. I went to Dishoom for one last hoorah and got my haircut. I went to my favorite shop on Oxford Street and then stocked up on food. That was the last time I really left my house other than to get food. Since then, I have been self-isolating in my small room in my halls, practicing social distancing to help combat the pandemic.
I wasn’t stressed until my boyfriend called me after talking to his family in France and told me I needed to stay inside and think about others. It’s not about me. It’s about trying to end this as soon as possible.
While my friends all traveled back to their houses in England or Europe, I’ve stayed behind, thinking this would all go away soon. My sister is on lockdown in Madrid and calls me every day to tell me that she is bored but weirdly enjoying her isolation because she’s getting through her bucket list. I call my mom and ask her to check in on my grandparents, where they reside in Colorado. And I sit in my room and avoid the kitchen where my nine flat mates make terrible smelling food like pigs intestines.
The most exciting part of my day is the Prime Minister’s press conferences, in which nothing is really said as London is still open, with people still going out to pubs and roaming the streets. When I go to the shop, the streets are just as busy as usual, except now people are wearing masks and carrying a month’s worth of food and toilet roll. In these bags, I know they’ve taken the last of the eggs, flour, pasta, toilet roll, and oat milk, which are the items I struggle to find. Yesterday was a success, when I found eggs after checking every day for five days.
What’s getting me through the isolation is Twitter, which I refresh every five minutes, long Facetime calls with my family, and group chats. I can’t imagine this pandemic without the Internet. C’est la vie.
Iona Gibson (Scottish student living in Canterbury): March 13 & 20
There has been a lot of friction in my house lately. I share this house with three others, two who are in their second year at the University of Kent, and one fellow Master’s student studying at Christ Church University.
As the last toilet roll was coming to its end, a heated dispute began as to whose turn it was to buy the next batch. But it was not about turns; it was about principle. We have never run out of anything before, and now the roll has just one sheet attached. We were all reluctant to be the one to use it – like the last slice of cake that everyone wants but is too shy to take, or ask for.
The arguments started over who was using it up so fast, but it was less about speed and more about the rolls not being replaced. In the end, we had all contributed and used our fair share. It’s just that none of us wanted to be responsible for leading a scavenger hunt, since there has been no toilet roll in supermarkets for weeks.
And it’s not just toilet rolls that have left shelves empty – it’s all non-perishable goods, especially hygiene-related ones. Luckily, this household is a clean one. We have had copious amounts of cleaning supplies since moving in about six months ago, after combining everyone’s collection. Probably a good thing too, since all the places in town that used to sell cleaning supplies have been stripped to the walls by hyper-conscious consumers.
Hand sanitiser was the first to sell-out after all the announcements. Even soap dispensers in shops, restaurants, schools and universities were all out. For a student-centric city, the consequences of catching Coronavirus are a lot lower in Canterbury.
Sadly, with the population being predominantly 18-25 year olds, the social scene has not changed much. The clubs are just as busy as they usually are, music booming, groups chanting, glasses smashing, drunk teenagers heading for their 3:00am McDonalds in mini dresses, shivering but partying.
It is my birthday today. I was considering spending it in self-isolation, but the birdsong left me feeling wanderlust, so I braved the outdoors and went on a walk. The fact it was also the first sunny day in weeks only added to the enticement. After all the news of emptying streets in other countries, I had the image in my mind of Canterbury as a day-time ghost town.
Shockingly, it was busier than it should have been. It was busier than it had been for a while, with window shoppers and apocalypse hoarders alike. It should never be this busy during the daytime. It seemed ironic that the people in favour of school and workplace closure still held the expectation that they could go for a nice meal out in the evening time with their family and friends.
The high street was bustling with business all morning, afternoon, and night. I suppose stabilising the economy is the government’s priority in such an uncertain time. On my walk I wondered, are panic-buyers not aware of their actions?
I couldn’t help but notice how the homeless were also honing in on these crowds, seeing coin-collecting potential in the exodus of passers-by. Kent, the ‘Garden of England’, is generally known for its high numbers of homeless people because it has the warmest relative temperature to the rest of the UK year-round. But in four years of living here, I have never seen so many.
My walk back home was quick, and thoughtful. I called a friend to ask her opinion on whether I should treat myself to a dinner in town or order in. She suggested ordering in because I would have less contact with people, but I argued that someone still has to cook and deliver the food. I ended up going out. The restaurant was packed, so packed that people got turned away.
Every place was like this. Was everyone in on the idea of making the most of the high street while it was still buzzing with service and opportunity? Some might call it last-minute gratitude, while others might say the real epidemic is the encouragement of consumerism in what is ultimately an age of environmental emergency.
I suppose it is only human to care about your personal fulfillment above all else.
I have not left my house for three days. Two of my housemates have caring duties to their family members, and the other one has left to go to London before the soft lockdown kicks in. Now, it is just me in the house. Just one. There is water. There is food. There is toilet roll. There is kitchen roll for when time times get tough. My period started today, and I’ve spent all morning on my knees cleaning the remains of my housemate’s mess from when she left last night, just so I can send a video to the landlady for prospective tenants.
My tenancy and the tenancy for so many others in this student town ends in the expected Covid-19 peak. How does the move out-move in exchange takes place? What if there is illness in the household and it lingers in our carpets? The show must go on, though. Everyone has a duty to earning a living. The landlady only emailed after I expressed concerns. Her responses were insensitive, but I can’t blame her for having worries of her own. Alas, the construction next door still violently drills away.
I had an interesting digital conversation with a friend yesterday about how everyone is treating the economy with priority over health. The materialism and greed in people’s eyes is quite shocking. Not only are shelves empty, but there are queues and queues and queues waiting outside supermarkets daily.
Within 10 minutes, the essentials are gone, if there were any in the first place. Now shoppers are being limited to prevent panic buyers depriving others. The elderly are given a special time slot to come in and do their shopping first. When I read the papers, I never knew someone could get such satisfying joy from nabbing the last loo roll on a Wednesday morning.
A good friend of mine works in One Stop, the only store for miles within one of the Canterbury student communities: Hales Place. Only a couple of weeks ago, he was telling me how the store seemed to be a ‘safe haven’. Now, people are asking him for bread before he has stocked any on the shelves. Turns out, we still know the price of everything, but not the value.
Yesterday was my Mum’s birthday; it is in between mine and Mother’s Day. Her husband had planned a surprise trip to Italy for the two of us over eight months ago – the flight was cancelled, of course. We managed to re-book flights to go to Scotland, but I opted against the risk of travelling even nationally. I changed them for August 1st, hoping to make a quick getaway when my tenancy ends, if it ends.
When I called my Mum to say ‘Happy Birthday’, she didn’t seem too happy. Up North, she described the traffic and road blocks; locals fighting over bottles of Buckfast in petrol station convenience stores like they’re the last for miles; the gorgeous weather being soured by the animated atmosphere of apprehensive animals, not humans.
The people are regressing to wildness. She lives in Fife, where military presence is being deployed to quarantine affected areas. Scotland has a fraction of Covid-19 cases compared to the rest of the UK, but the government seems to be taking faster action. My younger brother, living in Aberdeen, reports a similar strange, selfishly savage behaviour.
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson has given himself two years’ worth of emergency powers. Parts of the Covid-19 bill were leaked on Twitter yesterday, explaining the issues surrounding this. It’s quite scary, reading through. The man in charge was willing to risk an entire population for the sake of ‘herd immunity’. That’s a bi-product of a pandemic, it shouldn’t be a plan. At least he has reinforced social distancing, of which I had my first experience today.
A friend of mine was visiting from Medway – the area in Kent with the highest concentration of cases. He asked if he could come by to pick up a coffee cup he left a while back. I agreed, and asked if he would mind posting a parcel for my Mum’s birthday while he’s out. He graciously accepted. I left the items outside my front door. Later, I picked up the postal receipt from the front door. It was a no-contact contact.
Will things continue this way?
Ilse Blanquet (Mexican living in Mexico City): Week 1
My name is Ilse Blanquet, I’m from Mexico City. I moved to London two years ago to complete a MA program at UAL-LCC. When I left my hometown in 2018, as a country we experienced a memorable presidential election. For the first time in our history Mexico City major elected was a woman and the left party won the polls.
Citizens set a new record by reaching the highest number of voters on elections like it wasn’t seen in any other past moments. Most of all the people hoped that this change would lead into a positive transformation in every way: political, cultural, social and economic. Even those who didn’t support the left wing, were sceptical but willing to give a chance to the claimed president Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
While I lived in London, I read the news to be updated on what was happening in my country. Time went by and the national landscape didn’t improve at all. People are wondering where, not only the president, but our City Major is as well. The government we voted for? Our currency has been devalued drastically; we’re living a wave of feminicides and insecurity on the streets; there aren’t opportunities and jobs for everyone and, to add to the list, we are not prepared for the pandemic crisis we are facing globally.
Although the pandemic alert was given weeks ago, our government has taken so much time to undertake the right measures to prevent the spread of virus. Mexico City looks different but not like a lockdown place. People are still on the subway, taking their buses to commute, going to the banks and even to music festivals, such as Vive Latino.
Despite citizens from other countries warning the world on why is important to stay home and social distancing, is shameful and upsetting younger generations decided their festival and entertainment was more important than our social safety. Traffic in the city has decreased significantly and there are few people walking on the streets.
Surprisingly, the President is still on the move and he decided to carry on with meetings and conferences that involve greeting people and citizens. Yes, even though he was asked to avoid handshakes, kissing and hugs.
There hasn’t been a big frenzy on every supermarket (yet), but there will be soon because panic doesn’t know culture, nationality or gender. It happened in the UK, in Australia, Spain, France, Canada, and US and sooner will cross the wall Trump keeps building on the border with Mexico.
Most Mexican supermarkets hire people to assist the cashiers to pack goods in the bags of every customer. The majority of them are aged people who work to cover their basic needs. Even thought our President gives every single morning a press conference to talk about the current issues and address the immediate actions he’s taking, he has stated there’s no need to panic about the COVID. He has diminished the seriousness of this problem, a problem that affects mainly the vulnerable and majority of our population, the elderly.
Since authorities haven’t done too much to implement prevention, society, enterprises, schools and some companies have moved into a home-office organization. Even some radio stations are broadcasting from home, but still it seems there will be no lockdown measures soon. Restaurants, bars, churches, casinos and some gyms are still open.
Some organizers haven’t cancelled massive events and schools are gradually taking actions on their own by moving to on-line classes, especially private ones. Tests for COVID-19 could have been requested by anyone who felt any symptoms, but, since two weeks ago, they are not offering them anymore.
Social media and national media have been playing an important role for the good and the “not so good” side. It has been said that hospitals are hiding the real numbers of people infected because the government pushed them to lie. As the medical system is not ready for the expected number of infected patients, there are not enough medicine and equipment to give them proper attention.
Millenials have been trying to alert everyone about this and keep trying to encourage everyone to stay home through hashtags like #YoMeQuedoEnCasa (I stay at home) or #YoMeCuidoYTeCuido (I take care of myself so I take care of you). But on the other hand, the overload of information, restrictions, sanitary suggestions and details about the virus has spread fake news.
The silver lining is that there are lots of groups asking to make donations of goods and supplies for homeless on the streets or vulnerable people because quarantine is still a privilege not everyone can afford.
Yes, we’re facing uncertainty not only in Mexico but everywhere. Our country may not be prepared for whatever is coming. We’re still waiting for our government to take the best actions for the sake of the people. Until that moment arrives, there’s a light of hope especially for us: After the big earthquake in 2017, we proved that nothing is bigger and stronger than ourselves working together. Will that sentiment prevail among us for the next months when we reach the peak of the pandemic? #FuerzaMexico #TogetherWeWillGoThroughThis
Stella Schmieder (German student in Werder): Week 1
Like many others, I have decided to go back home to Germany due to COVID-19.
Initially, I was meant to go on holiday to Austria and flew over to Munich. However, Austria closed all hotels and ski areas, and we had to drive six hours to Potsdam.
I would have never thought that the virus would have such a significant impact on our everyday life. I haven’t seen my grandparents for three months, but when I arrived, I was only allowed to see them from six feet apart.
It was emotionally devastating but necessary as they are at risk if they would get the virus. My family has a history of asthma, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. I have diabetes type 1, and I’m quite scared about getting COVID-19. I have contacted my doctor to get my necessary medication, such as insulin and injections.
My parents and I stocked up on food and hygiene products. The toilet paper situation in Germany is the same as in the UK. It is quite ridiculous to see people fight over a roll of toilet paper. In the supermarket, they advised not to pay with cash money as this could risk the health of the people working there.
Germany closed all schools and kindergartens and other public areas like cinemas, bars, playgrounds, etc. Only supermarkets, pharmacies and gas stations remain open, and restaurants have to close by 6pm each day.
People have to work from home. My sister seems to be most affected by this change because she has two younger children and has to take care of them as well as taking time to work.
People are scared that the number of hospital staff is going to decrease as doctors, nurses, etc. need to take care of their children. Many people finish work late and barely get any food as the supermarket shelves are mostly empty.
Visits to care centres and hospitals are forbidden except it is a case of death, birth or parents visiting their children in hospital.
The borders for travellers from the EU are closed. Lufthansa canceled 95% of its flights, and our market continues to fight for survival. The government announced to support small businesses with money, but artists, musicians, and more are afraid about their future.
Chancellor Angela Merkel describes the coronavirus pandemic as ‘greatest challenge for Germany since World War II’.
The warm and beautiful weather in Germany makes self-isolation harder. The urge to go outside to meet friends increases. My hometown Werder (Havel) near Potsdam is a small town with around 26.000 inhabitants. I feel safer here than in Berlin, which is only 50 km away. Every city has ‘hotspots’ where people are being tested and essential precautions are carried out.
The Robert – Koch – Institute announced that if we do not reduce social contact, 10 million people would be infected within the next months. That would be 8% of the German population. At the moment, there are around 16.000 confirmed cases, but the number of not yet confirmed cases is much higher.
To stop spreading the virus, the German Federal Ministry of Health started the Hashtag ‘#wirbleibenzuhause’ (meaning: We’re staying home). Especially young people do not follow the advice from health ministers and the number of ‘Corona – Parties’, where people meet to intentionally get the virus, intensifies.
The government was discussing a lockdown but wants to avoid it. Nevertheless, Germany has federal states that can decide for themselves. Therefore, Bavaria went into full lockdown and restricted movement. It is only a matter of time until other federal states do the same.
Samuel Zhang (student from Shanghai living in London): March 18
My name is Samuel, I am an international student from Shanghai currently studying photography at LCC. I’ve been self-isolating at home (Lambeth, south east London) for about one week now since the Coronavirus situation is escalating in the UK. Luckily, I live in an en-suite studio that seems a perfect place for self-isolation.
I decided to stay in London whereas many of my Chinese fellows chose to go home no matter how crazy the flight prices are. I understand that people would feel better to be around with the family at this moment. I talked to them; some of them are afraid of getting infected and are not confident with the capacity of NHS.
Some of them just don’t understand the strategy of coping with the Coronavirus that the British government is adopting, which is the complete opposite of the Chinese. Of course, it really depends on the different situation in each country. You cannot tell which policy is better. And even the cultural differences – like mask wearing – some westerns might argue that masks are useless and only triggers anxiety because the virus isn’t airborne; however, the Chinese choose to wear it to prevent their face being accidently touched by hands and even the droplets from passers-by in some crowded places like public transportation.
As a Chinese living in London, I’ve been holding a very complex feeling about all these happened since the first country had the Coronavirus outbreak – China. In the very beginning, my trip to Japan with my girlfriend was cancelled (we haven’t seen each other for more than one half year), but it seems it didn’t affected my life in London too much, I was only worried about my family and friends in mainland China.
Obviously, this didn’t last long; the virus has been spreading to the whole world after China took control of the continuing outbreak by its unprecedentedly strict policy. The UK government took a step by step approach to react to the urgent situation that is totally different from the rest of the European countries. With the calmness I didn’t even realize THAT DAY would come: my exhibition cancelled, a bunch of already paid events and artist talks cancelled, anyway, all activities are cancelled, no mobility.
Let’s talk about foods and life necessities. About a week ago, when I went out for shopping toilet paper, what I saw was really shocking, that was the beginning of all this happening: all the toilet paper was gone, everything changed over one night. People buy as much as they can without any concern. In the following days, I went to all the supermarkets, grocery stores and local expresses to try to stock up my needs following the government’s advice and I observed that the facts are: the next day, all eggs, rice, and pasta with sauce were sold out.
On the third day, canned food like beans and meat. The fourth day, oil and flours. Even imposing buying restrictions couldn’t stop this mess. Once the store opens at 7am, the toilet paper can be all snapped up in only 1 minute, those people still want to buy more while they have already stocked up a lot at home. Such panic buying really affected some vulnerable people like the elderly. One of the staff from Morrisons told me ‘people are just too selfish and greedy, they don’t think about others’, and she is about 60 years old.
Interestingly, I’ve experienced a lot of dramatic things from my Chinese community. Brooke Hall is a student hall where I’m currently living in. We have a ‘Brooke hall Wechat group’, like a Facebook group, which aims on helping each other in London. Undoubtedly, the Chinese were the first getting aware of the situation and did their best to protect themselves in terms of sanitation, masks, foods, toilet paper, etc., social distance and self-isolation.
However, after all this stuff got prepared, they bought the flight to China. I’ve heard of this every day, there’re seven students so far in only two days. The most interesting thing is that one announced they’re leaving and posted the stuff they just bought into the group chat for selling, it sold out soon.
One day later, another one of them would do the same thing – announced they’re leaving and sell the stuff they bought yesterday in the same way, and it continues. Don’t laugh, it’s not funny, this is a WAR that we haven’t experienced for many years.
As an international student we’re more than 7,000 km away from home and family, we’re also suffering from a lot of mental challenges, like anxiety, depression, anger, and fear, etc. It is a protracted war physically and mentally.
Thinking positively, some of my friends and I all agree that this is a perfect time to reflect and slow down, and we can spend much more time on ourselves, like reading a good book.
Ifan Barber (Welsh student in Llanelli): Week 1
Hello, I’m Ifan Barber, a 20-year-old Media Communications student studying in London, but due to the well-timed arrival of my spring break, I have found myself back in my hometown of Llanelli, a coastal community in South West Wales.
Since returning home, I have yet to experience first-hand the drastic measures taken by the government to limit the spread of COVID-19. Schools have remained open until only today, with dwindling pupil numbers leading to local headteachers to call time a day earlier than the government-advised Friday March 20.
My cousin is currently working as a teaching assistant and was sent home early on Thursday morning, as there was a lack of teaching to assist, due to a poor pupil turnout.
Social distancing and self-isolation haven’t quite taken off here in Llanelli yet either and I am no better. I have been eager to catch up with friends I haven’t seen in some time, and have been out of the house far more than I have been in it.
I feel rather guilty to admit that I haven’t been hesitate to go for coffee with friends, although those plans were scarpered by both Costa and Starbucks’ decisions to go takeaway-only and thus not giving us the opportunity to sit in public spaces and talk, which I suppose is an indirect way of encouraging customers to still enjoy their products from the comfort of their own private space and prevent further spread of this vicious virus.
But, having recently pre-ordered the latest instalment in the Nintendo game series Animal Crossing, I’m sure my attitudes will change once it arrives and I launch it up, I’ll be tucked up at home and engrossed in escapism of building my very own coronavirus-free world.
One thing that also seems to be consistent between Llanelli’s population and the rest of Britain and the western world is the notion of panic buying. Toilet paper has become a rare sight on supermarket shelves across Britain, and it’s no different here in South Wales, much to my bemusement considering bowel troubles aren’t yet a key symptom of COVID-19.
The same applies for tinned, long-life products, the aisles of baked beans, long-life milk and soups are deserted, and the hard-working staff are seeing the products fly off the shelves as quickly as they put them on there. In my local supermarkets, signs are up at the entrances and in key aisles read that product purchases are now limited to two or three per customer.
Others are taking a step further and partnering with Carmarthenshire’s branch of Age UK, the elderly support charity, to give the opening hours of the store priority to the population most in need of products due to the impending isolation of those deemed vulnerable to the virus, particularly the over 70s, of which are in abundance here in South Wales.
As this week comes to an end, I’ve taken a step further to solidifying my immediate future in Wales rather than in London, with the likelihood that classes are going to move online and London go on lockdown, I applied for a job at my local Morrisons store, as supermarkets in my area make a desperate plea for temporary staff to assist with the growing stress of unnecessary panic buying. We’ll see how this progresses in the coming weeks.
Annika Loebig (German student living in London): March 13-18
My family lives in Norway while I live in London
Seeing the world react to this pandemic is bizarre, frustrating but also hopeful. Italy is on a complete lockdown, and my brother’s university has already made the decision they’ll be hosting online seminars. Meanwhile, the UK and its neighbours overseas seem to check how long they can pretend everything is fine until they’re forced to take action.
I’ve been staying at home because of what I hope is a flu, living off of “everything-you-have-in-the-fridge” stir fries, and worrying whether I’ll still have a job when I’m back on my feet. Some of my friends have decided to see their families to isolate together with them, whereas I’m stuck in what feels like a space of eternity’s void.
I’ve been ill for over a week now, and tried to call 111 for clarity. I felt like I was rushed off the phone as quickly as possible. When I called, there was an option for people who are over the age of 60, so I assume they would be prioritised first. It’s understandable, I thought. An important measure to protect the most vulnerable.
But I’m still stuck at home, not any smarter, after being told that I should just self-isolate for seven days and basically just get on with it. It feels like a frustrating reflection of an ill-prepared health service that reached its capacity even before this pandemic. I have so much respect for all the nurses and doctors that are risking their own health for this country, but who’s going to look after them?
I’m not much better than I was yesterday, and I’m afraid I will lose another week of work. The government operates slowly, and it makes me so angry that they don’t follow the example of so many other European countries that acted much faster. What’s going to happen to people like me who are on zero hour contracts, who won’t be able to afford rent? Single parents, teachers, nurses, families in lower income brackets – what’s going to happen to them?
It’s like the government is still thinking about whether GDP could be more important than actual human lives, which makes accepting the outcome of the last election even harder. I’m scared as I’m plunging into a future of uncertainty, but at least there’s comfort in the solidarity people show online, the WhatsApp groups, and even the jokes people are able to make now.
I wake up still coughing, and text my employer that it wouldn’t be responsible for me to go to work this weekend. This will be the second week that my only income will be £95 statutory sick pay. The government finally announced that schools will be closed, and that tenants will not risk getting evicted if they don’t pay rent!
This is a big step for us, and I thank Jeremy Corbyn for bringing this up after criticising Rishi Sunak’s announcement on how he’d help businesses through this crisis. Let’s hope that the lower classes will finally be seen during this pandemic and that we won’t have more people on the streets or in massive debt when the worst part of this crisis is over.
Ana Rosário (Portuguese living in London): March 15 & 19
I’m Ana! I’m originally from a small town in Portugal called Serpa but I’ve been living in London for a year and an half now. I’ve moved here to study MA Arts and Lifestyle Journalism, which I finished in December. I planned to move here pretty much since high school, but never in my wildest dreams I thought I’d live through an epidemic abroad and far from my family. Actually, I’ve never thought I’d live though an epidemic AT ALL! Allow me the cliché, but those kinds of things only happen in fiction.
Well, Boris might not be doing anything, but I’m quarantining myself anyway. Yesterday I left the house to buy food and I’m only leaving again on Tuesday for the same reason. Angel was actually surprisingly busy and no one seemed to act like they were going through an epidemic. If it weren’t for the empty shelves in the toilet paper and the canned food sections, it would be just a regular day.
My plan is to leave the house once every three days to buy food. I’ve set my activity plan for the next… days? weeks? MONTHS????
- I’ve learned how to knit (my grandma is going to be super proud when I tell her);
- Started a French course on Duolingo (had classes back in middle school but completely forgot it);
- Got back to the reading speed I had when I was a teen (I used to devour books in a matter of days);
- Try to finish all the shows I have pending (almost done with Peaky Blinders!);
- Oh… and trying to find a job (a great time to look, am I right?).
I have been in touch with all my friends and family back in Portugal. There it was declared actual quarantine state. There are still some exceptions though. My brother and father still have to go to their jobs. My dad is the one who worries me the most, since he works in customer service and has to deal directly with people.
The government pulled the Easter break two weeks earlier, so my mum, who’s a teacher, has no classes, but, for some reason, teachers still have to go to school. Luckily, the principal of her school told all the staff to stay home at her responsibility.
I have a flight booked for the 30th to go home for a few weeks, but I’m not sure if it’s happening. If the company doesn’t cancel it, I’ll do it myself. I don’t care if I’m losing money but I’m not risking it. Alentejo, my region is one of the only two currently without any cases in the country and my grandma is staying at home with my parents. Between a train, a bus, a plane and two airports, who knows what could happen? I’m not taking the risk!
It’s weird not knowing how long it will be without being with my family, but hopefully it will not be for long. My graduation ceremony is set for July and I really want my dad to come to London for the first time (and finally be on a plane). Fingers crossed it doesn’t get cancelled!
The Portuguese president has declared state of emergency yesterday. The first two cases in my region have been declared yesterday as well. In fact, every single region in Portugal has at least one case now.
My friends and family have all been keeping me updated on the state of things back home and in their homes. Most of them are quarantining with their families. Some joke that they are almost going through a reality show-like situation where they want to nominate their mother or father to leave the house or their families want to nominate them.
My father and my brother are still going to their jobs. My dad’s job costumer service desk has been closed and he and his co-workers (only four other people) are working with the door closed. Now, my brother is the one who worries the most. He lives in Lisbon and still has to go every day to his job in an open office with over 100 people there with him.
My friends in Uni there have been having classes online. They showed me pictures of the teachers in videoconferences from their houses trying to do their normal classes. I’m curious to see how those in journalism classes with practical assessments are going to be evaluated if they cannot leave the house.
Everyone has been telling how weird it is to go grocery shopping. Stores and pharmacies have limited working hours and only allow a limited number of people at each time. The queues at the door have big spaces between people and takes a long time to enter the stores.
The flight borders have been closed to all EU countries and the UK. Yet, the only thing the flight company has emailed me is that I can change my tickets with no extra fares to their winter flights (between October 2020 and February 2021). I don’t even know where I’m going to be next month, let alone in October! At least my friends from Spain and France were able to get home right at the nick of time before borders were closed there.
In here, things seem to be getting more serious. Schools were closed and I have been hearing some talks on proper quarantine measures on social media.
Other than that, I’ve been living my normal quarantine life. I’ve only left the house once on Tuesday to buy groceries. Since I live in a residential street that is usually very calm, the movement these past few days has been the normal one. I thought I’d see some differences once I stepped on the main road, but it was as it usually is on a week day. The only pandemic sign was on the Sainsbury’s where there wasn’t any meat or fish, but I managed to find on another store nearby. I’m going to Angel again tomorrow and maybe might see some difference there.
I haven’t felt very bored in bedroom yet. I’m almost finishing the yard ball I’m knitting (hopefully the store is still open tomorrow). I’ve finished one book and watched a lot of TV shows. I’ve been letting one of my landlady’s cats in my room more often for some company and cuddles.
Surprisingly, I’ve been watching a lot of concerts. Seventy-five musicians from my country got together and organized a “music festival” on their Instagram pages called ‘Eu fico em casa’ (‘I stay at home’). I’ve been “going” to the festival with another friend who’s in Lisbon. We even reacted ‘wave’ on one of the concerts at each other, like we would do in a festival venue to find each other. I might or might not have done a solo dance party on my bedroom Tuesday night.
I don’t know for how long this will continue. However, these last few days have shown me that even if I’m London and my family and some of my friends are in Portugal, we’re all making sure that we’re not feeling closed in our houses!
Natalia Zmarzlik (Polish student living in London): March 9-19
My name is Natalia, I’m a 21 year-old Polish girl who’s studying BA Journalism at LCC in London. My home city back in Poland is called Katowice, one of the biggest and the fastest developing one in my country. I moved to London in September 2018 all by myself, with one suitcase, full of goals to achieve and determination to conquer the world.
I was in London when the whole Corona Virus problem went viral and I am still here now, waiting for the situation to clarify and decide whether it is safer to stay here and go back to Poland.
Until March 9, no actions were taken by the Polish government regarding COVID-19 pandemic, people were only advised to wash their hands as often as possible, cover mouths while sneezing or coughing and avoid being outside home unless it is necessary.
The government announced that starting Wednesday (March 11) all schools, kindergartens, universities, museums and cinemas will be closed until further notice. Mass events such as concerts and university balls have been re-scheduled for May/June.
Closing universities and staying away from mass events affected those closest to me the most. A two weeks long delay in exams will affect my best friend’s ‘WORK&TRAVEL’ summer project to US. What is more, her visa appointment in the embassy has been postponed to May, which may affect the application procedure.
My other friend and her parents are organizing a biannual charity run for celebrities, journalists and people after transplants as a career. The event had to be postponed until late May, which would affect the families and their business’s financial situation.
The same day my Azerbaijani friend studying in Budapest told me that Hungarian people must leave university halls and that only foreign students can stay. What is more, spring break planned around Easter times started as early as March 12.
My best friend’s surgery scheduled for March 16 has been cancelled due to health and safety precautions.
This Friday afternoon, Polish government announced that from March 15 (Sunday) the following restrictions would apply:
- Strict border controls for, at least, 10 days;
- Polish people returning to Poland from abroad have to self-quarantine for 14 days;
- All flights and trains from and to Poland are cancelled;
- Shopping centres will have shorter opening hours and only banks, pharmacies and grocery stores can remain open;
- Restaurants, bars, clubs and cafes are not allowed to trade;
- Mass gatherings for more than 50 people are officially illegal from that day.
My dad’s flight to London that was scheduled for March 19 has been cancelled.
Poland is officially locked down for at least two weeks.
Due to mass panic of Polish people that got stuck abroad or live in foreign countries permanently and would like to return to Poland, the government, in cooperation with LOT Airlines, organized flight from several places around the world to Warsaw in order to bring Poles back home.
The official LOT website is constantly updating the list of flights to Warsaw. Tickets are disappearing very quickly, especially from locations as popular as London. The first “return home” flights are scheduled for March 16.
I was talking with my Finnish friend and flatmate about the whole Corona virus situation and if it would be safer for her to go back to Finland or to stay in London. A few minutes after we decided we stay in London, my friend got an email from her workplace that, due to the virus, all her shifts are cancelled until further notice.
Few hours after, after talking to her parents, analysing her financial situation after losing the job and buying a one-way flight ticket to Helsinki we were packing her suitcases.
I would not wish it even to my worst enemies to say goodbye to one of your closest friends when you do not know when and where you will see her again.
I am constantly in touch with my parents and best friend who update me about what is happening in Poland and I update them about how my London life looks like.
Watching people doing grocery shopping in bulks and buying much more food than they can eat made me panic a little bit too, especially when I saw empty shelves for the first time. At the same time, most of my overtime at work has been cancelled due to the extremely small number of customers visiting Oxford Street.
As I am the only child and we are living in different countries, my parents are worried about me and how I am doing. After some long conversations we decided I should not make any drastic moves that may affect my life after the Corona Virus is over. So, for the next two weeks, I will try to live my normal life in London.
The whole situation is a big lesson of adulting for me. I have never been so grateful. I managed to save enough money not to worry about paying the rent for a few months, even if I lose my job (retail is going through a lot now, not only because of Corona Virus).
Alongside planning my finance, I am disconnected with my closest friends and family and usually I’m the stronger one who lifts the others up (even if I am not a parent in this duo). I also discovered that it’s not being infected that scares me the most, but the fact of not knowing what the next day will bring is.
March 18 – Afternoon
LOT Airlines revealed the list of flights to Poland up until March 23, with five flights from London Heathrow Airport which sold out in less than 15 minutes.
For the first time in my life I saw a security guard standing next to the pasta shelf in Lidl to make sure no one is trying to buy too much. Sections with vegetables, frozen meals, sauces in jars, bread or cleaning supplies are empty. There aren’t even cardboard boxes on the floor. It is scary for me and I feel like we are preparing ourselves for a war.
When I went to my local newsagents to top up the British Gas card, the lady working there advised me to double the amount I planned to put because they might be shutting down the store soon.