Recently, I spoke to five people in five different cities across four continents, about their experience of lockdown in this time of crisis. Across the world, virtually every state has restricted or grounded flights; all European countries except for Belarus have closed their schools and most have closed shops, bars and restaurants. In Asia, nations like South Korea and Taiwan implemented tough measures early but never experienced full lockdown, while others like Japan and Singapore are currently strengthening their measures against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Different countries are implementing their lockdowns in different ways, though. I wanted to find out how people’s experiences of lockdown differ from place to place, so I spoke to people in France, the USA, Slovakia, Australia and Singapore. In places, I’ve abridged and lightly reworded; any information I’ve specifically added is in [blue]. I’d like to expand further and speak to more people, so if you have a story to tell about lockdown from your region or country, please do get in touch1!
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Damien, living in Toulouse, France
‘The confinement in Toulouse is the same as everywhere else in France. There aren’t any additional restrictions, such as in Nice for example, where a curfew at 6pm has been set up. Here, we have to stay at home as much as possible, limit our journeys and only go out when we need to restock our food, for urgent medical appointments, to go to work, and so on.
The police check whether people outside are allowed to be outside, by seeing if their obligatory certificate is filled in. The maximum number of people allowed to go out is two, and of course we have to live under the same roof for that. You have to queue up before you are allowed into supermarkets, and restaurant owners have taken the initiative to distribute meals to care workers in hospitals or retirement homes.
The government is reacting a little late and in an improvised way, in my opinion, although it’s impossible to truly prepare for something like this. There are huge contradictions, such as the fact that they closed the schools at the beginning of the crisis but still held the municipal elections the following Sunday; then they announced the national lockdown two days later.
The country has ground to a halt, but people are still encouraged to go to work, especially in factories and warehouses, even though their work is not essential like some others (supermarkets, pharmacies, police, postal services). The health of some people is therefore being sold off in order to keep the economy going. And of course, these are not the most well-to-do workers. But at the same time we can go out running! All you have to do is to authorize yourself a right of exit by filling out a certificate according to a specific model. If you don’t present this document, it’s a 135€ fine. To me, this doesn’t make much sense. There have never been so many runners in the streets!
While doctors and scientists agreed from the beginning that a lockdown would be needed for a minimum of 45 days, it has only been announced in waves of 15 days, and each time only two days before the end of the previous period. We are also desperately short of resources. The hospitals are overwhelmed. Caregivers and other workers who remain in contact with the population have very few approved protective masks. We were supposed to have a national stockpile of 1 billion masks, but now we only have 150 million. The same goes for life support beds. Germany has three times as many as us… but the quality of healthcare has been sacrificed in France for a long time to save money.
A few months ago, hospital staff were still demonstrating to warn of the lack of resources, they were then gassed by the police. And today the President calls them ‘heroes of the nation’ and tells them to stay strong.
So, for the past month, most of us have been confined to our homes and have had to find other things to do. So there are new television programs that have been created: live cooking, entertainment between ‘stars’ via webcam, etc. Many people have taken up sports at home. We also get to hear from our friends and family more often. I think for many people, we feel we finally have some time for ourselves, so this isn’t all bad.
Although the situation is tense and worrying, a form of solidarity and awareness is emerging. There have been solidarity channels set up to warn about family violence, or psychologically fragile people. Meetings and leisure places such as bars and clubs are closed, so artists are keeping in touch with the public by doing live shows on Facebook or Instagram.
For my part, I am confined in an apartment with my girlfriend, and our cat. The days pass quickly even if one is bored at times. We take advantage of being able to sleep for a long time. I usually work at 7am, but right now, I get up at noon! To keep us busy, we decided to do sports every other day. Otherwise we’d still spend most of our time on the various screens: Xbox, social networks, Netflix etc.
As a music fan and amateur DJ, I spend a lot of my time listening, sorting files buried at the bottom of my hard drive, and creating playlists for the day when we can again organize parties in Toulouse. In terms of outings, we have a supermarket and a tobacco shop a few steps from our home, so no big risky outings on the program. Even if the desire to go for a walk itches, you have to know how to respect the rules to facilitate our exit from this crisis.’
Danish, living in Singapore
‘Singapore isn’t in full lockdown, but [on April 7th] it went into something called a circuit breaker for at least four weeks. The government have asked us to stay at home and avoid going out except for essential tasks. [These include shopping for groceries, banking, mailing items, seeking medical help and working in key roles.] The supermarkets are still sometimes busy because people are going out shopping, but many more people are listening to advice and staying at home. The parks aren’t closed, and people are still free to go out and exercise, but they need to socially distance, staying at least one metre apart from other people.
I have home-based study at the moment, through video link with college teachers. After my lessons are done each day, I go to work at a supermarket. To be honest, working there can be boring, and I really want to travel around the world. So I’m planning to travel once the virus calms down.’
Alli, living in Seattle, USA
‘Here, our shelter-in-place measure is not as strict as you’d think. Bars, restaurants and state parks are closed, and there’s no large gatherings allowed. But there’s still a ton of people out when it’s sunny. They actually closed a few local parks this weekend, because they were worried people would try and have big parties for Easter.
The lockdown is mostly being enforced by social pressure. We have a very limited presence in terms of police, but people will give you a weird look if you don’t have a face mask on in the grocery store. So far, I haven’t seen or heard of anyone being arrested. I think people are aware that, firstly, everything is closed so there’s nowhere to go, and secondly, there’s a feeling of hesitation about making places with friends- even if you intend on following social distancing measures.
Locally, Jay Inslee, the Washington state governor, enacted our shelter-in-place so late after our first case. He really didn’t want to have to close businesses down, which I understand. In the end, our shelter-in-place measure came in mid-to-late March, way after places like Portland or San Francisco. Nationally, don’t even get me started.
Seattleites are a cold and distant people by nature, so if there was ever a city that social distancing was made for, it’s us (that sounds brutal until you live here). But even so, the anxiety people have ins incredibly palpable and it eats at you. People hold their breath when they pass by you. Going to the grocery store is filled with awkward and anxious moves to be constantly six feet away from other people. I think it’s been collectively really hard on everyone’s mental health. I remember last week, I was running, and another guy who was also on a run was coming in my direction. He starts coming towards me and holds his hand up for a high five. I have about five seconds to panic, before I realise it’s a joke, at which point we both start laughing. I probably laughed way harder than I should have, because I realised that was the first positive interaction I’d had with a stranger since this whole thing started.’
Chris, living in Melbourne, Australia
‘We’re currently on Stage 3 lockdown, which means we can only leave our houses for essentials. I haven’t seen much of a police presence personally, but I do know someone who’s been fined for being outside and not having a good reason.
All the pubs and restaurants are closed, and to be honest, that helped to enforce things a lot. Also all of the shops except the real important ones have closed. It’s mostly social pressure [that’s enforcing the policy].
I think the government response was very slow, but also, we have only 57 deaths which is low compared to the rest of the world… so maybe we’ve done something right? The government have been sending out a lot of mixed and confusing messages, and honestly, I think the fact that Europe has had it so hard has helped to make people stay indoors. Personally, my barber school and my workplace are both closed, so I’ve been keeping myself busy by cycling out in the bush.’
Arnie, living in Bratislava, Slovakia
‘For us the lockdown was really fast; I think we’ve been in lockdown for three or four weeks now. On Thursday [11th March] they announced that we are closing our borders, and then on Friday we’re also closing our shops, and then on Saturday a total lockdown was announced, including the airports, and suddenly you can’t go anywhere except to work. It was just three days, that’s it, we’re closed. Over the next few days they tried to introduce measures to improve the situation- for example, now you can’t enter the bus from the front door, you have to use the back door, and you have to stay two metres away from the driver.
Another major change is that you can’t get a taxi anywhere in Bratislava now. You literally cannot ride in a taxi. So instead of the taxis delivering people, they deliver food! Pretty much all of the restaurants which are now ‘shut’ still have open kitchens, so you can order food. It’s become a part of the business now, to survive the crisis. Actually, the same happens for bars and pubs which are brewing their own beer. The breweries are still working even if the bars are shut, so you can buy beer and have it delivered.
I haven’t seen many police. Non-essential workers are being told not to go to work, and to stay at home. I think most people here accept that. I haven’t heard of any penalty system where they say ‘we will punish you if we see you outside’. I think most people don’t want to fuck about, they want to be sensible. Today they announced that movement within the country will be restricted over Easter, but they haven’t released many details about how to implement it.
There’s a movement here to clap on our balconies and say thankyou for healthcare workers, just like in other places in Europe. I’m not sure I see that much point- do they care about people clapping? Do they even see it? I can’t tell you that much more about social movements in Bratislava, but I can send you some information about what’s happening in my hometown of Vilnius, in Lithuania.’
[In Lithuania, many people have put up signs offering to buy food for older people. Many restaurants including George and the Dragon and +++Gastrobar are delivering free food to doctors and isolated people. Private kindergartens are repurposing to look after the children of medical professionals. Some are offering to make their airb’n’b properties available for people to quarantine. Law firms are giving free legal advice to people being treated badly by employers, while translators are offering to work for free to disseminate COVID-19 information. Meanwhile, Vedini Makers of Lithuania are working on using 3D printers to make goggles and replace parts of ventilators. The general feeling is that Vilnius in particular is doing a good job of supporting people during the crisis.]
1- I’d be particularly keen to hear from people in Africa, Asia or South America, or from rural areas. However, I’d really like to hear from anyone with a decent story to tell. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org , and my instagram is lewismills9.