As Covid-19 spreads across the globe, LCC students from many countries kept 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. After 11 weeks of these accounts, these diaries come to an end as the world is slowly starting to open after months of quarantine.
Ysabel S. Vitangcol (Filipina student living in Manila)
My Greatest Fear Today Isn’t Coronavirus
As some nations continue to move forward from the global outbreak, I am afraid the Philippines is going nowhere but backwards. While I always took pride on the archipelago’s natural resources, beautiful beaches, the hospitable and empathic approach towards others and our resilience during hardship, it has been becoming more shameful bearing its citizenship. We now have the longest lockdown in the world and ranked third highest in terms of number of COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia. Our Department of Health reports that the country has 22,992 cases with 4,736 recoveries and 1,017 deaths, nowhere near flattening the curve since the first case was detected in late January. Sadly, the government sees bigger problems than a fatal virus.
It has been a pain-staking, topsy-turvy ride living and being here. The country has transitioned to General Community Quarantine, or a lighter sentence to the strict lockdown that was implemented mid-March. Living in the capital, it’s been chaotic since: the traffic has resumed, social distancing is apparently lenient, public officials continue to breach health protocol and hold social gatherings to name a few, setting a poor example to its citizens. Masks are now the new normal for an everyday outfit in the sweltering heat and pollution, making it difficult to breathe.
Last month, the biggest broadcasting firm in the Philippines, ABS-CBN Inc., was shut down by the National Telecommunications Company, arguing that the franchise expired and the company failed to pay taxes. While the Bureau of Internal Revenue proved otherwise, as a result, the closure laid off 11,000 employees and angered many Filipino netizens. The last time the same company was shut was in 1972, alluded by the dictatorship of then President Ferndinand Marcos, who declared Martial Law that lasted for fourteen years.
The unemployment rate is awfully high, at 17.7%. Unfortunately, most nations affected by the outbreak are no different. Some local businesses were fortunate to get by through e-commerce, while others suffered at the hands of the economy decline, forcing their enterprises to close.
While the Black Lives Matter movement continues to anger the world, the Filipino citizens also bear the weight of the administration’s true motives. The proposed Anti-Terrorism Bill is being rushed to get the signature of approval from the president. In layman’s term, the bill oppresses the Filipino’s human rights, posing a grave threat to civil liberties. Needless to say, it has troubled people, like me personally, that we are being silenced little by little. As a journalist, my life is on the line with these impositions coming left and right. A broadcasting company closure, a law that violates human rights, I’d hate to connect the dots and say it’s coincidental to what happened during the Marcos presidency decades back.
I end this entry grateful and alive that my family and I are well. Is it safe to say that I fear the state of the nation more than getting affected by the world’s deadliest virus? In this day and age, no one and nothing is safe anymore.
Mathilda Frotscher (German student in Hamburg)
I am on the Eurostar from London St. Pancras to Brussels, final destination being Hamburg. My flat in London is empty and all my belongings in self-storage or next to me in one of the many, many heavy suitcases. I left for Hamburg at the beginning of lockdown, came back to London for two weeks and decided to leave for good now. That is if LCC doesn’t open back up in autumn. Either way, I will spend the whole summer in Germany, visiting family all over the country and enjoying quality time with my friends like I haven’t since I moved away three years ago.
Covid-19 forwarded decisions I have to make about my life by one year. It was clear that, after graduation in spring 2021, I’d have to decide where to start my career, considering aspects such as Brexit, job opportunities, personal life etc. But the lockdown made me go to my hometown and that changed everything. I decided that London is not worth it for me, when I don’t have to attend Uni and my job doesn’t need me.
In Germany, I have short distance to people and places and lower living costs. Also, the lockdown in Germany was not that extreme but still effective and I feel safe because of politicians being transparent, clear and reasonable. That made people cooperative, creative with their options and also got them a lot closer together than you would think. Muscles received a lot more attention than they get during everyday life, neighbours got to know each other and appreciation for the government took place. I had loads of moments where I felt reconnected with myself and my nationality. I tend to disconnect in the fast London pace with the multiculturalism that I enjoy so much, but makes me forget where I am from.
The moment I will tell my grandchildren about is when I was at my doctor, sitting all naked in the gynaecological chair, but with a face mask on. Still not sure whether that was a high or a low, but the highest high for me was to realize that I reflected more consciously than I usually do. By writing this journal and also by the decisions that had to be made. A low was probably right at the beginning when it wasn’t clear how hard the border controls were going to become and I was scared to lose my freedom to travel. Being able to see my family and friends whenever I want to is very important to me.
What is also very important to me is the realization that “I am my home” and that I want to take care of that, including more downtime and “me-time”. I was travelling around during the last months a lot (sometimes voluntary, sometimes less) and ended up moving from London to Hamburg. But, throughout all this, I started to build a home within myself, which I will continue to grow and nurture even after Covid-19 forces us to change our habits and routines. Just don’t want to waste no more time on Netflix or feeling sorry for myself for having limited options but always make the most of everything present.
Regarding the collective future, I can imagine that, by the end of the year, everyone is going to review the year and then have that strange moment of “Oh, I completely forgot about the lockdown in the first half of 2020!” We are going to get used to wearing masks, travelling less and maintain the distance to the elderly and preconditioned. I hope that we won’t take normality for granted and that the planet’s health is going to be on the agenda with the same ambition we arose to make this virus go away.
All in all, being locked down – as paradox as it sounds – has taught me that the secret to feeling more energized is doing more. Whether that is writing reflective pieces, exercising on balconies or baking banana bread. Just keep active friends.
Ana Rosário (Portuguese living in London)
It has now been four months since I last saw my family and friends in Portugal for the last time. It is now the first time in two and a half months of quarantine that I’m looking at a possible concrete return date. Every day, I take ten minutes to check flights for early July. While I’m waiting to get more of sense of how things are doing before buying a ticket, I feel more and more confident that it will happen, that the countdown to normality is getting shorter and that in no time I will be on that plane.
I’m proud of myself to be handling the confinement so well. It’s been a real test of how I can handle myself by myself. Not all days were easily, obviously, but I never felt truly and 100% alone. First of all, the family I live with always made me feel really really welcome, that was especially important during these times. Second, there was always a phone call, a message and a video I could do in those hard moments. I feel like I even strengthen some of my friendships through the hardship of distance and confinement. I check on friends, friends check on me, family “popped” around randomly but very wanted and vice versa. That’s actually one of my biggest lessons from these months. I don’t need to be physically present to be with company. That even far, I’m never really alone.
However, being deprived of things that were part of my daily life hit harder at those lower moments. I miss my long long walks, films in the cinema, my dearest concerts – that I doubt will happen that soon -, sunsets on the Thames, randomly rewarding myself with a great looking piece of cake from a cake shop, meeting my friends for talks that would end up being about what’s grinding our gears in the moment. I had so many plans for these months that ended up being spent at home. Finding a job, starting a career, travels and tourist sightings with my friends. It’s even harder because some of my friends were at the end of their time in London. Those plans ended up on stand by and some of them are probably never happening.
And there are also the long distance things that I miss dearly from home. Mum’s cooking and our bickering that always ended in a hug, driving through the roads surrounding my home town with the radio on, walks with my dad with those very deep talks, visiting my grandma’s house and she going above and beyond with the afternoon tea, seeing my great-aunt and being exposed to the ray of sunshine that she is, the always usual visit to Lisbon.
I miss Lisbon a lot actually. Filling my “agenda” with meals and coffees with my friends – the only two hours I could see them in three months – , crashing my brother’s house – and playing long hours of cards against humanity in his kitchen – , or my uncle and aunt’s – and having a clear look of how old I’m getting by seeing how mature and amazingly grown up my little cousin now is -, using the dead moments to roam downtown – which was my favourite part of the city when I lived there. While London has been my dream city since I was really young and I hope to make my life here, Lisbon will always have a piece of my heart.
Honestly, I’ve been using all this things I missed as an incentive to get through this. They will all feel even more special and great once I get to do them. Yesterday, Portuguese news said that this year’s Lisbon Book Fair will happen and it will be in late-August – will all precautions evidently. I was so happy because I loved that book fair as a uni student in there and I might able to go again this year.
In fact, most – but not all – recent news from Portugal about Covid-19 have been filling me with joy. Despite the fact that the numbers are still not fully controlled and the summer is going to be a bit weird, with no festivals and a lot of restrictions in the beaches, the country is slowly opening and slowly getting back to normal. That is a sign that things a slowly getting into this “new normal” that everyone is talking about and that other countries will follow. With the speed that time has been going on, it wouldn’t shook me that one day will be just looking at this as a weird time that happened.
And, in some final personal news, today I got my first ever pay check from the temp job I’ve been doing! While it’s not a millionaire amount, I felt incredibly proud of myself for it. It’s a fruit of my own work and it will be the first of many and the start of something. In fact, since the quarantine for me is far from being done, I don’t finish this diary with a “THE END”. Think of me as a character in a book with an open end as, for me, it is definitely one.
Signing off. Stay safe and all the best…
Eve Hebron (Welsh student in Llandudno)
Over the past ten weeks, we have recorded our daily ups and downs with regards to the lockdown against COVID-19. If in February of this year someone had told me that every Friday I would sit here in my teenage bedroom and write about how many people had fallen sick or about goats invading my town’s streets, I would’ve been more than confused.
The lockdown experience has been a rollercoaster for everyone and has impacted our lives in the strangest of ways. Whilst other country’s come to terms with their ‘new normal’, Great Britain is still struggling to enforce solid rules and make sensible decisions. Some may argue that enforcing rules has been more difficult in the United Kingdom, as devolution has resulted in the country’s four nations deciding upon their own rules, but the country as a whole made its first and worst decision months ago – when it decided to take its time with regards to addressing the severity of the outbreak. The politicians did not listen to the advice of scientists, and they still don’t.
In recent weeks, media outlets have reported on how the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, failed to attend regular meetings regarding the COVID-19 situation. They discovered that Dominic Cummings, special advisor to Boris Johnson, travelled 260 miles to his family’s estate(!) with his wife and child. They have made it clear, that their relationship with this country has nothing to do with the people in it, but with the power they have over it.
Whilst we have bickered about who did what and who went where, people in the United Kingdom have been dying, on a daily basis, in the hundreds. Key workers have put themselves at risk to save lives, in some cases, without appropriate protection. Parents, considered to be the lucky ones who have not lost their jobs, have struggled to adapt to working from home whilst also playing the role of teacher to their children. Children have been denied a proper education, with infants missing out on early year goals such as learning to read or tying shoelaces. Teenagers have missed out on vital exams and the last day of school. University students have had to quit university accommodation and, in most cases, move back to their hometown whilst paying the same price in fees for an online course. Elderly individuals have lost all contact with social clubs and daily outings into town.
But these are just the surface issues. There’s also an oncoming mental health crisis, a rise in homelessness, a historical recession. And the finalising of Brexit, of course.
If the past few months have taught me anything, it’s that I am saddened to be British. Whilst other countries are setting up sensible action plans and their people obey such decisions, we are waiting for our own to offer some sensibility.
Featured Image by Dina Zubi.