As a way to help to connect as Europeans during this uncertain, confusing, and isolating time, we asked our diverse array of readers to share with us their experiences in their different locations. We now hope you will take some solace in this compilation of experiences that you are not alone – and people on the other side of the continent may be able to relate to your frustrations and concerns.
Firstly, some introductions from our contributors:
Where are you self-isolating? And how is that going so far?
Katie, Belgium: ‘I live with my partner and we have been working at home together 5 days a week for the past two weeks now. It’s not the most convenient, but apart from that, it’s quite calming. life has slowed down quite a lot – but we’re still finding plenty to keep us busy right now (online courses, books, learning to knit, cleaning the flat as we are spending more time in it, cooking…). As we are not under curfew, we still take plenty of time to exercise outside, cycling or running in twos. We also spend much more time reaching out to friends and family – both those we see normally in Brussels and those further afield to support one another.’
Stanislas, Belgium: ‘I live with my brother, it has a lot of ups and downs. One day I can be really relaxed and enjoy all the time, other times the insecurity stresses me out.’
Monika, Czechia: ‘I’m in my flat alone because I wanted to avoid contact with others. This is the 4th week of self-isolation and it is not a big change for me due to the fact that I’m working on my thesis within the last months. Of course, I miss my friends, going to the restaurants, and going to the gym – but I had a very similar life before because of my thesis. To be honest, it makes me stressed – so much uncertainty about my future, especially final exams. Plus due to my chronic disease, I’m at much higher risk than others. I think this situation influences me. I’m feeling very sorry for all who lost their jobs although personally, I’m doing well. I can feel all the circumstances, I can’t go out whenever I want, I do have to be more careful but these all little things I can deal with it.’
Lusine, Austria: ‘I live in a house with 10 people, my flatmates in a very calm residential neighbourhood. We all find the past several weeks the most calming and grounding we have had in a long time.’
Charlotte, UK: ‘I’m social distancing as no symptoms but asthmatic. I’m struggling with no being able to help in my community and raise funds for local charities as well as awareness. I just feel hopeless at the moment.’
Kadriye, Germany: ‘Personally, until now all is going well for me. I spend the days reading, cooking and sometimes watching funny movies. I think we should be grateful. All is asked from us to stay home – no one is asking us to go to war or do something else.
Marina, Belgium: ‘I live alone. I spend my week-days working from home. My other activities are cooking, cleaning, yoga, meditation, reading, Netflix, social media. I don’t find self-isolation stressful as I am used to it. Being far from my family and not knowing when I will see them is a bit stressful though. I find myself more relaxed if I don’t check the news or Facebook.’
Anon., Belgium: ‘Working, Netflix, video calls. Alone. Surprisingly ok so far given that everyone else is willing and keen to chat. But news alerts are not great.’
And how do you feel like your country is responding overall?
Monika, Czechia: ‘Generally, I have to say that our country accepted very strict measures from the beginning and it’s working. Normally, I don’t trust our populist government – but honestly, their reaction was good in general. What really sucked and they should take their responsibility for it when it’s over, was a lack of medical stuff. Seriously, how can doctors work without their face masks and respirators? Another thing is the way how they inform us about all the measures – they announced all the measures live during the press conference and then maybe a few hours or day, you’re able to download or read the written form of these rules which cause misunderstanding because they were talking about something but you have no idea from what date or how exactly it works. When they applied some rules and measures in the night which were in force from 6 am so all of us woke up without knowing anything. It was like during the war – there was a ban on all restaurants and cafés, they should have informed them in advance because they were ready for another business day with all food cooked and then realised at 6 am that they couldn’t open…’
Charlotte, UK: ‘There are some great community campaigns out there helping but the people stock-piling and panic buying are making things worse.’
Kadriye, Germany: ‘In the first few weeks, German people did not understand the situation well in my opinion. They were out in the sun, in the parks and in the biergartens. I saw this while walking alone to get fresh air. And seeing this made me realise, some people are selfish, they think nothing will happen to them but they do not care if someone else can get the virus from them. Also, there was a shortage of toilet paper and pasta in the markets, same as everywhere.’
Lusine, Austria: ‘No supply shortage or any strange behaviour noticed. Everyone is relaxed, but of course, cautious when it comes to queuing and walking past each other. Starting from this week, everyone going to a shop or taking public transport has to wear a mask.’
Marina, Belgium: ‘It seems like the food situation is back to normal in the supermarkets, at least in Saint-Gilles. I am not scared regarding food. However, there is still a toilet paper shortage, which is ridiculous. Also, I am in contact with some friends who work in hospitals, and the way it is organised there is awful. They don’t have enough material, and the government is not helping.’
Anon., Belgium: ‘Very few people are disobeying rules. Otherwise, everyone is doing ok. Supermarket online delivery over busy but other than that all seems ok. Some shortages on shelves but nothing like what you see on the TV.’
Anon., Spain: ‘The unemployment rate rocketed.’
Do you feel like your government is handling the crisis well?
Anon., Spain: ‘It allowed mass crowded manifestations after the virus arrived in the country….’
Charlotte, UK: I think they are doing the best they can to prevent the spread of the virus – as well as supporting people’s wages and small businesses.
Kadriye, Germany: ‘In a crisis like this, the government interferes more “brutally” which is not, of course, good for democracy – but maybe needed to protect the overall health of citizens. Here in Germany, I felt that police and government was a bit late. Especially when we think of the aging population.’
Marina, Belgium: ‘No. After years of weakening the healthcare system, we can see the result now. Hospitals shouldn’t be asking for private funding. They shouldn’t be asking for individuals to sew masks. They were not prepared at all.’
Katie, Belgium: ‘Belgium appears to be handling the crisis well – people seem respectful of the new rules, which have been put in place firmly, including with a non-aggressive police presence, but reasonably. allowing people to still get outside, is crucial when the vast majority live in flats.’
Stanislas, Belgium: ‘Belgium is coping great for now. I have not witnessed supply shortages, strange behaviours, or anything like that.’
How has the pandemic affected your personal life?
Stanislas, Belgium: ‘I lost my job, which scares me quite a bit. I keep busy with a lot of things, but the question of what will come after is period haunts me.’
Katie, Belgium: ‘Work is a bit tougher – although we are adapting well (using instant messaging instead of unnecessary emails and actually being more social in some cases with team meets and informal virtual ‘coffees’). The flow of work has of course been disrupted. it’s likely to get a bit boring after a while, but my main concern is getting back to the UK to see my family and that of my boyfriend’s in France. With the frontiers more or less closed and ‘strong advice from our office not to travel even for personal reasons, not seeing your family for maybe 6 months now is hard. For us, it’s even more complicated however as if current measures stay in place, it might be hard for us to travel to France and the Uk respectively.’
Lusine, Austria: ‘I found out about the start of curfew in Austria (16 March), when I was in Moscow visiting my family. I was planning to come back to Vienna, on 15 March, which is my birthday and had to make a decision: to either take one of the last flights to Vienna before the closure of borders and do not see my family and my boyfriend indefinitely, or postpone the contract with my current employer. After a certain amount of painful deliberations, I decided to go to Vienna, which I do not regret now, but feel that my longing for home intensifies since I don’t know when such a possibility would present itself.’
Monika, Czechia: ‘It influences me but not so much. I have to follow all rules, be careful because of my health conditions. I noticed all the restaurants closed, I know how many people working in services lost their jobs but I’m safe and home so I’m okay. What was a real struggle for me is my graduation, I was supposed to take final exams in May and now, it’s not so clear how it will be.’
Anon., Spain: ‘I haven’t seen any of my friends or family for weeks. Some loved ones are far away.’
Charlotte, UK: ‘I’m struggling not being able to help with the charities I support. One of the charities I work with has had to shut down temporarily and another one has had to postpone their biggest fundraiser. It’s heartbreaking to see.’
Kadriye, Germany: ‘It affected my work extremely bad. I was working at a startup and they discontinued my contract because of this uncertainty. So being out of work also affects my overall personal life – but I try to stay positive. Stress is the cause of all health problems.’
Marina, Belgium: ‘I write and do video calls with people more often. I also eat way more, move way less, so it will maybe have consequences on my body. Work is in slow motion, it is the case for my colleagues also. It makes me question what I want to do after, and if I still want to live in a big city or go back to the countryside.’
Anon., UK: ‘Single and lockdown has its difficulties…’
But who has had been directly affected by the virus itself?
Lusine, Austria: ‘One day one of my flatmates had a high temperature and he dialled the COVID-19 hotline number. The same day a group of paramedics in protective clothes came to our house, measured everyone’s temperature and did a coronavirus test on the flatmate. We were instructed not to leave the house until the results came on penalty of a substantial fine. A week later, the negative result came (a sigh of relief followed by a long and very much awaited walk in a park).’
Marina, Belgium: ‘I had weird symptoms (sore throat) for 2 weeks. I was also coughing but I have asthma so I don’t know. I didn’t call my doctor as I didn’t have any fever. My friends in the medical sector think they have it, which makes sense. They were told that they will have to work even if tested positive.’
To summarise their thoughts on the situation so far, our responses had this to say:
Charlotte, UK: ‘It seems the whole of the UK is coming to a standstill it’s effecting mental health, general health, and businesses – you name it, it’s affecting it. It’s even affected the smaller things like my beauty pageant (Ms. Diamond UK) that was supposed to be in May. I’m the current Ms. South Yorkshire and it’s impacting my mental health as I’m used to being out and about helping people and charities and I can’t at the moment, so having so much time on my hands is very strange.’
Monika, Czechia: ‘I’m really disappointed by the actions of European states. We should have shown more solidarity. Shame on selfish countries such as Slovakia who closed their borders without letting the EU citizens going back home. C’mon, we are European society, we should help each other. We were taking care of your citizens because you closed your airports, you should help others. I really think there should be some fine for them because this is against the principles of EU and our society.’
Anon, Spain: ‘We have seen disasters happening all around us. We felt pity for the victims. And now, we are the victims of this horrific pandemic. I know we will overcome it – fight with hope and strength – but what really struck my mind in the middle of the turmoil are big questions about what is truly important. What does it mean to live as a human in the sometimes fake society we live in? I feel ashamed for what I could be doing and but not doing. It’s not just about dumping my job and lifestyle overnight. All of this mess and this isolation makes me think of what changes I could bring into my life to make it worthwhile.’
Kadriye, Germany: ‘As someone born and raised in Turkey, Istanbul, we learn to live with uncertainty. For me, it is, of course, stressful, I think of my family in Istanbul and also the work situation but keeping a positive mindset is the only way you can survive these difficult times. My only hope after this situation is that we all understand how difficult it is to live like this for other people. We are fortunate, we can travel and can buy lots of groceries in normal times, but now, rich and middle-class, everyone understands how difficult it might be to live like this. I hope we come after this situation with a more kind heart and compassion.’
Katie, Belgium: ‘It’s tough, but we’ll get through this! The more we respect the rules of social distancing and isolation, the quicker we can resolve it and begin to live more normally again. But we shouldn’t forget – the air is cleaner and the streets peaceful. Let’s hope we both learn from this and that governments don’t try to bail big polluting companies out to the detriment of planet and health over the people who most need help.’