Lockdown: the Early Days
Over the last few days, people have been sharing their experiences from all over the globe of where they are and what's happening. From the Czech Republic - one of the first EU countries to temporarily close its borders. From cities like Berlin and Munich, where bars and clubs are shut down, but public transport and restaurants still heaving. From Hong Kong, which has been on lockdown since January (and where schools, universities, libraries and attractions are closed, as they now are in a number of EU countries) but where the rate of infection seems to be under control and life is sort of normal-ish. From Cardiff, where there's a certain amount of disbelief that a Stereophonics gig has gone ahead over the weekend, and from where the fans have presumably transported the virus to every corner of the UK. From small-town Nicaragua, where there is currently no panic, but restrictions already in place on who can enter the country. From Dublin, where St Patrick's Day will be celebrated at home, since the pubs have had to close down. From rural France, where people are still kissing one another in greeting and where restaurant owners get snippy with you if you cancel your reservation as a 'social distancing' precaution. From the Costa del Sol, where lockdown is enforced by police assisted by drones and where drunken British holidaymakers have been making a nuisance of themselves. From Queenstown, New Zealand, where there are no cases of infection but where the tourist industry looks set to be decimated. From Singapore, where the government is really on the ball, where mass testing and tracing of those in contact with the infected was put into action from the very beginning, and where the rise in infection has been largely contained.
Many are at home, and glad to be there, even though they are facing untold weeks of cabin fever, cooped up with the loved ones and, in many cases, having to entertain or home-school their children while having to work. Some are in a precarious position, having been caught out on the road by rapidly changing travel restrictions and quarantine requirements. Unable to get home, they may find themselves knuckling down in some third country, faced with a prospect of dwindling finances and stricter and stricter restrictions.
People I know all over the world are dealing with their predicament in different ways. In cities under lockdown, some are making plans to learn to hula-hoop on the roof and finally put their photo albums in order. Some are learning to bake sourdough bread from scratch. Some are taking romantic 7am strolls to the supermarket, knowing that it's pretty much the only bit of fresh air they are likely to get on any given day. One friend has expressed an interest in learning to play the saxophone, though their other half is less than keen on the idea. Others are not absolved of their work duties even on lockdown; teacher friends in Spain are having to corral their own children while teaching their students over video link. Others still are arranging virtual game nights with friends who've had to quarantine themselves; I myself have been invited by friends from the UK to join in a pub quiz over video link on Saturday night, so my weekend plans are sorted!
Involuntary confinement is particularly hard on the fresh air fiends - the cyclists, the hikers, the surfers. Locally grounded cyclist friends are missing the exercise and a friend from France commented that before France went on total lockdown, the whole family made a dash for a nearby forest for a walk, and while they were on their way back, they got a text message from the government, telling them to return to their house immediately. Elsewhere, things are less draconian. London is apparently still in denial, though far fewer people are out and about, since the government has stopped short of issuing a decree to shut non-essential businesses down, but has advised people to stay away from theatres, restaurants and pubs.
As for me personally, I have some writing to be getting on with for the next few weeks, though it's beginning to dawn on me that I'm basically stuck without an income for the foreseeable future and I need to be thinking of ways to earn a living, pronto. Between spells at my desk, I've taken up some moderate home improvements (like finally fixing a knackered washing line on my balcony), am experimenting with new recipes and find myself being in touch with friends and family much more often than usual (via phone, WhatsApp, Skype).
Friends who've been under solitary lockdown in various parts of China since January have commented that the worst thing about interminable confinement is the grey plateau of boredom that stretches endlessly towards the horizon. That after you get over the initial thrill of reading about and dwelling on every detail of the unfolding pandemic, on every reported death, and that end-of-the-world feeling subsides, you find yourself having to confront what truly matters. For some, like myself, that means that even if you are someone who's solitary by nature and who's always valued their 'me time', it's the realisation that what ultimately makes life worthwhile is interaction with other people. I try not to dwell on it (because there is not much I can do about it), but I have no idea when I will see my family and friends again.