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.
Eve Hebron (Welsh student in Llandudno): May 11-14
Monday 11th May 2020
It feels like everyone has a hangover today. All my friends are confused and depressed as a result of Boris Johnson’s plan of action for an ease of lockdown that was announced last night. I think we knew it would be unclear and vague, as this is how announcements usually are if Boris is making them. However, his lack of instruction and failure to even mention Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland left the majority of the nation, it seems, feeling hopeless. How are we supposed to imagine this ending, when we’re living in limbo?
Tuesday 12th May 2020
France eased their lockdown as of yesterday. My friends tell me that, in Paris, people have to wear face masks to travel on public transport and these were given to them by the French mayor, Anne Hidalgo. She is also trying to reopen parks in Paris and transform certain roads into walk and bicycle-only paths. Despite some areas of confusion, the French plan d’action seems much clearer than ours.
Wednesday 13th May 2020
There is still confusion surrounding Boris Johnson’s announcement on Sunday evening. In England, he implied it is now possible to meet one other person, as long as you remain at a two-meter distance from that individual, and unlimited exercise is now allowed. Additionally, he asked for those who can work from home, to work from home (vague), but asked everyone else to return to work as normal – on the Monday, twelve hours after the announcement. This resulted in confusion over social distancing on public transport come Monday morning, and forced people to work in potentially dangerous scenarios. Once again, there is an overwhelming feeling of disappointment. It’s difficult to have faith in things getting better if you can’t have faith in the government. In Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, despite the Prime Minister not announcing it on Sunday, the lockdown remains the same for another three weeks.
Thursday 14th May 2020
Today, I worked on projects for university. My motivation comes in waves, so I have to take advantage of it when I can. I believe Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have done the correct thing in remaining locked down for another three weeks, but I really hope things start to improve soon. I can’t help but be angry with the British government over the mismanagement of the situation, and I’m starting to worry about the long-term mental and social impacts this strange period will have on society. Remaining hopeful seems to be essential right now, but it is much easier said than done.
Mathilda Frotscher (German student in Hamburg): May 8-15
Hello from London! After two forced months in Germany and two forced days in Amsterdam, it is good to finally be home. But I have a feeling that the journey is not over yet.
Unfortunately, the journey started with me being yelled at by a stranger for not wearing my mask in an Overground station. In Hamburg, masks are mandatory in public transport and grocery stores. To my defence, I was on my way to the airport and I wanted to eat my favourite German pastry one last time. So, I had the mask hanging off one ear and was enjoying my breakfast until a (sober) guy marches up to me, shouting: “Who do you think you are? Eating in public! I’ll tell the police about you!” Bla bla bla… Then karma showed its face: five police officers came up to us and (to my surprise) started defending me! LOL. The guy got told off for “not letting me eat in peace” because, apparently, it is allowed to take the mask off when the appetite is just too strong.
The journey got weirder and weirder. An empty airport and an aeroplane with literally seven people on it: three passengers – including me -, two flight attendants and two pilots. Amsterdam was very pleasant due to all the shops being open, but no tourists present – besides happy me. I rented a bicycle, explored the city and really enjoyed being by myself. Well, I had company from my friend, Mary-Jane.
Now, I am back in North-West London, but my social media algorithm still seems to be in Germany. Since the re-opening of beauty salons, Instagram, Facebook, etc. have bombarded me with “fresh nails”, “fresh tans” and “new hair” posts. Which automatically creates the picture of euphoric, pale young women running to their beauty salon at 8am in the morning queuing for two hours with bitten down nails and grown-out hair. Acting like there’s nothing else going on in the world. That was my rant for the day, sorry about that.
One good movement around the German socials has been the hype of a 15-minute video informing about sexism. Which doesn’t sound like an unusual thing, I know, but the story behind it is quite unique. The video comes from a show which is a competition between two comedians and their employer ProSieben, a very popular TV channel in Germany. If the comedy duo wins, ProSieben will give them 15 minutes of airtime, which they can use in any way they want. If ProSieben wins, the duo must unconditionally do what the broadcaster demands. Cool concept, right?
This week, the comedians won and chose to give the 15 minutes of spotlight to feminists who are creating awareness about ongoing issues created by sexism. The video went absolutely viral. I don’t think anything has been shared this much in Germany since Gangnam Style.
But, at the same time, it polarized a lot as well. There have been statements such as ‘the broadcaster and the comedians are just doing that as a PR move’ or ‘why are they not using their reach to talk about the pandemic’ and so on. It is sad to see that something good can’t just remain something good. Why do positive intentions always attract negativity? Maybe that’s just people overthinking stuff because they have time to kill in a queue in front of supermarkets – or beauty salons.
Anna Komitska (Bulgarian student living in London): Week 9
On Sunday, Boris Johnson announced that lockdown will soon be eased, as the UK is preparing to reopen its economy. Most non-essential businesses are expected to reopen after June 1st. However, little of his speech clarified the government’s next steps in the fight against Covid-19. Scientists have argued that plans to get back to normal life are being made too soon, as the infection rate is reportedly still going up.
The weather continues to be warm and sunny and some of my friends have been posting pictures of picnics and cycling in Central London – granted that they are out with their flatmates. I’ve been going out for walks around my neighbourhood, but my coursework keeps me mostly inside.
On May 14th, the Bulgarian government held a press conference at 11pm – one of many happening late at night since the coronavirus outbreak. In it, it was announced that the state of emergency is to be extended until June 14th under a new name, ‘emergency epidemiologic circumstances.’ No explanation has been provided as to why the decision has been made, as no new cases have been registered and very few people are ill. The president denounced the decision as an effort to put pressure on people’s freedoms but, nevertheless, signed the bill.
More information with regards to the false statistics of Coronavirus patients has been revealed. People have come forward speaking with the media, explaining that members of their families over the age of 60 would be admitted into hospital for other reasons, but upon being discharged have been asked to be added towards the official statistic of Covid-19 patients. Many have likely been added to the lists without their permission.
Meanwhile, fake news regarding foreign policies to handle the pandemic are being released, including London, Washington etc. Much of what is being reported has been exaggerated or simply not true. It has also recently been debated that politician Delyan Peevski owns several national TV channels, newspapers, and online publications, giving him ultimate control over the media.
Groups have started gathering to protest Prime Minister Boyko Borissov. An interview with the person appointed as head of the now former Crisis Headquarters sees him using abusive and dismissive language towards a female journalist, part of whose questions had been proposed by audiences. An attitude similar to Trump’s would unsurprisingly be tolerated as normal by many back there; few would bother to organize a feminist movement. The country’s borders remain closed and the 14-day quarantine is still intact.
Iona Gibson (Scottish student living in Canterbury): May 8 and 15
I left my house for the first time in over 50 days. Here’s what I learned: it is still possible to exchange a British ‘sorry’ to the only other person sharing the street with you, exercise restriction and social distancing are not being followed and my neighbouring park is flooded with drunken sun-baskers, some small businesses that should be closed are not-so-secretly still open, and flour is the new hand sanitiser. Is it the same everywhere else?
It all made sense on paper, but the reality is actually a rather terrifying dystopia. Though it may sound like an exaggeration, what I experienced was not dissimilar to how Steve Rogers felt waking up 70 years in the future. Though life is fundamentally the same, there are advanced cultural and social norms that I’m simply just not aware of. I could not decide what was scarier: the fact that daily life has changed or the fact that the public generally ignores those changes. The UK has the highest number of cases in Europe, third highest in the world, and is one of the few countries not to include the recovery rate. We know it’s bad, but we don’t know how bad. At least, I got to post my letters and buy sun’s cream. Time to return to the familiarity of my capsule, rather than become Captain America. I’ll leave that role for 2020 elections to decide.
The Hackathon I joined came to an end last week and my group submitted our project on May 1st. We will hear back about the results on the 11th and, until then, wait in eager anticipation. It’s a strange but wonderful phenomenon that dreams can be chased with strangers on screens; that shared goals form a network of cogs that power real-world projects. One of the many technological silver linings. Although, perhaps the first thing I should do when lockdown eases up, is go for an eyesight test. As my parents might say, I’ve reached the point of “square eyes”. Maybe I should join my neighbours’ house party and get square ears instead.
No, there’s no quick getaway. Particularly when the news is online and anything Covid-19 is a hot topic. With talk around the UK’s lockdown exit strategy getting louder, it has got me thinking deeply about how Londoners may try to escape their boxed-up heights by heading for Kent’s beaches. Canterbury is largely dependent on tourism, education and retail, three of the hardest-hit sectors. How the district plans to bounce back is definitely something to consider. Until then, the public must assume that governmental decisions are made in the interest of everyone’s health and safety, and not because the economy is headed towards a recession.
Speaking of which, my contract came to its official end on Monday, and I have received two eviction notices from my Landlady – May the 4th be without me. May the 8th last three days for the world to celebrate VE. May the 14th mark the second-last of my master’s assignments. May the 20th bring my father a happy birthday. And May the month please come to its swift end.
The UK has 5% of China’s population but has three times the number of cases. There is more than one case per square meter in England alone. Yet, people are out in the parks drinking beer and having a laugh side by side, without shirts or sensitivity towards socially distant passers-by. To top it off, our good friend Boris has made a rather confusing speech legalising such careless behaviour as of Wednesday 13th May; encouraging people to go back to work, visit their loved ones, and prepare for schools to re-open. Businesses have been told to expect to open between the 1st and 4th of June. Has the English government decided to ignore the second Covid wave that is currently making its way through Asia and the steady increase of Eastern European cases? Wait, sorry, Brexit will solve that one. Right?!
Numbers may be going down on paper, but there is still no record of those isolated or in care homes who may be suffering or have died. There is also no sign of a recovery rate, making it difficult to know the true state of things. Are they prepared for the consequences such loose guidance on lifting lockdown entails? Boris says that “British common sense” is what will beat Coronavirus – am I missing something? Probably only as much as was not shared with the devolved government. There are plenty of logical reasons why Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have not followed suit.
Boris said that “we have begun our descent from the peak of the epidemic” but the only truth in that statement is the first five words. For a plan that is “data-driven”, there are too many questions to be raised. NHS contact-tracing apps that are enabled on a large scale are not anonymous, but pseudonymous. Most people don’t know, most people don’t care. Boris has acknowledged that “a wrong move could be disastrous”, so does that mean he believes all these risky choices taken, even now, are right? Surely the British public who were persuaded to vote Brexit are now questioning the security of their privacy as well as their judgement of the country’s leadership by now. The choices being made and the uncoordinated responses are frightening. This is a virus made worse by governmental negligence, but ultimately by counterintuitive, ignorant human behaviour. As I write this, I am participating in a digital Global AI Summit on Zoom, wondering with hundreds of other minds: how can we make room for change? Maybe it’s time for a politician reliability index.
It is not just the UK. I’m still in shock that the entire GCC thought it would be a good idea to lift lockdown laws for the sake of Islamic tradition. Now, risk is higher than ever. People are relying on God for it not to be, without realising their actions are a huge part of it. My mother is Muslim, and has opted not to fast until everything is over as the stress and long daylight hours make conditions unbearable. There is nothing wrong with delaying Ramadan for the sake of your health. Alas, too much faith is placed in large institutions, and not enough in individual action. Many of my friends in Dubai are doubly suffering the Expo 2020 failure, as the country built on trade, tourism and transport is stuck in a position where they cannot attract the 25 million people they were hoping for to hoist the country’s growth. What shape will recovery take for countries that have not left room for Plan B?
At least the fact that Kent & Medway Hospital has had the fewest Coronavirus deaths (only one death) in the UK offers local peace of mind amidst national crisis. Not that any death should be celebrated. Rather, given that Kent neighbours London – a virus cesspit – it is astonishing how well they are handling cases. Especially given that they have the highest number of cases out of all local English authorities. Having said that, Canterbury only contributes to 10% of Kent’s cases, the majority coming instead from Thanet, Dartford, Medway and Ashford. Considering that Ashford is a commuter’s hub which already had one of England’s worst infection rates, I dread to think what to think these new rules will impose on working traveller’s health.
Ana Rosário (Portuguese living in London): May 14
14th May (Thursday)
It has now been two months since I’ve started my lockdown and almost two months since the UK started its official lockdown. The country is now started to officially ease it according to some very confusing directions given by Boris Johnson. I didn’t see the speech live but, going by the comments going on after it, I made a good decision not watching it. I saw the Matt Lucas video mocking Boris afterwards, which apparently was clearer than the actual speech, so…
It is said that humans are creatures of habits, which is quite true for me considering how these last few months have been going. It is weird, but I’m getting a bit used to the routine inside the home. Of course, there are always lower moments when I wish I could go on a long walk or I could finally take the plane to my family, but I’m actually handling everything pretty well. It’s so weird to think that, over 10 years ago, I handled the first week I spent away from my parents terribly bad, missing them so much I cried every day. I WAS AT MY UNCLE AND AUNT’S HOUSE! And look at me now, almost three months without being with anyone from my family, in a foreign country and not knowing when the next meeting will be.
I guess technology is a big help. I call them every day, do a video call at least once every two weeks and message them if something interesting happen. That makes the distance smaller. Also, the news that the lockdowns in various countries are starting to ease give a bit of hope, but I think I already wrote about that way too much.
My mum has been complaining about the conditions for nurseries pre-schools to open and how classrooms will work when she returns to her job; I have to agree with her. The government is expecting kids between three and six year old to not engage in physical contact with each – like they won’t immediately hug their buddies the first time they see them for months -, keep safety distances between each other, only use one toy per kid and not go outside to the playground. I wonder if the person or a person that wrote these measurements has ever dealt with an actual child. But considering my mum’s pre-school is only planned to open in June, a lot can happen till then. Let’s see how it goes.
Also, I’ve got the news of the possible new date for my graduation ceremony. I’m so happy, especially since it falls around Christmas time. It’s going to be so nice to show London to my family around then!
Dina Zubi (Norwegian student in Oslo): May 8-14
Yesterday, there was a press conference to announce further lifting of restrictions. We can now be together in groups of up to 20 people, though we still have to keep a one meter distance. Public events with an official organizer can have up to 50 people, which means that some cinemas and theatres could open again. That is if they can afford to stay open and only sell a small portion of their seats. The previous 14 days of self-quarantine after abroad travel has also been shortened to 10 days.
It looks like the whole summer will be spent in Norway this year, which I am actually very enthusiastic about. I’ve wanted to travel around my home country for years now, and it looks like it will finally happen. There is so much of the incredible nature and scenery I’ve never experienced, from fjords and mountains to beaches and seaside towns. I also want to see the Art Nouveau architecture in Ålesund, Fredrikstad’s Old Town and the fisherman’s cabins in Lofoten.
It feels very strange to keep paying council tax, electricity bills and rent for a flat in London that I haven’t used for months and probably won’t be able to use for another few months, at least. Had I known I was going to be away this long, I probably would have terminated my tenancy and moved all of my things out. It definitely would have been a lot cheaper to rent a storage space than a room in a two-bedroom flat. I also would have brought a lot more things home to Oslo had I known I would be here this long. I forgot my glasses, for instance, which is becoming a bit of a nuisance because I have to squint in order to read subtitles or any other small text.
As of today, there have been 232 deaths caused by Covid-19 in Norway. I’m so glad the number is not higher, but I’m still a bit confused as to what has worked in keeping the number down here. Was it because we locked down relatively early, or is there another reason?
Featured Image by Natalia Zmarzlick.