ENGLISH // COVID-19 : International testimonies of the younger generation

French version here

Sad situation, and sad record. Today, March 20, and since January 24, France has had 10,995 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 372 deaths due to the epidemic. Catastrophic figures that are just as impressive in other countries in Europe and around the world. Starting with Italy, where the number of death cases (3405) exceeds that of China (3245).

On 16 March, French President Emmanuel Macron announced in an official statement that serious measures would be taken to fight the spread of the virus. Indeed, since 17 March, a containment system has been in place throughout France, for a renewable 15-day period. Unnecessary travel is prohibited, schools, restaurants and cultural places are closed and many companies are putting their employees to work from home. Any infringement of the containment rules is punishable by a fine of 135 euros by the police patrols that are on the streets.

And all this leads to fears, psychosis, crowd movement and distress among the population. Technical unemployment, dismissal of employees in the catering industry, some of them being students at the same time. The economic repercussions are huge: world stock markets are falling a little more each day, airlines and tourism companies are in danger of bankruptcy, and globalization is taking its toll.

« All sectors, all companies, all countries, all markets, all financial products, all raw materials are affected simultaneously. Nothing is immune to the virus. » – Paris Match

The world is frozen. The roads and streets are empty. No one moves around anymore, at least not for the majority. And everyone wonders what’s going to happen.

So I wanted to find out more about what’s going on all over the world. Statistics on the news, I’ve seen them. Words on television, I’ve heard them. But what I wanted to know was how these people, especially the younger generations, felt all over the world. A subjective point of view on the situation, on the decisions of governments and on the feelings of the people.

I contacted friends I met during my exchange year, or during my travels, and I decided to share their testimonies with you, by continent, to make it clearer. These are their thoughts and fears, in small paragraphs. Real words about the reality of things, from the point of view of the new generations.

Thanks to Pavel, Ivan, Maggie, Alex, Ivana, Lahcen, Zaid, Katie, Theodora, Anya, Fridrik, Jasmine, Kate, Tim, Meric, Elerin, Oriane, Nanna, Eraste, Ana, Kathrin, Isa, Kara et Ilann.


EUROPE

Ivan – Italy

“I’m feeling like in a parallel world, For instance today, I have been to the hospital to buy some medicine and everything is so silent. I stopped walking for a while and I was just looking at what was going on around me and I could watch just few cars and people that were walking straight with masks. My country, as known as funny and friendly country, is fighting hardly the virus with all possible measures but we have some hilarious moment too: for instance in Florence at 18.00 every day people start to play music with speakers from the balcony to shake the situation up.
In the north of italy, there are more hospitals and better facilities than the south. The problem is that the infection is not spread equally along all Italy. The most dangerous zone is in the north, for being specific the region called Lombardia; over there although hospitals are quite good there aren’t many seats left, so we started to move people infected to the south. No state in the world has got a bed in high therapy intensive for each citizen because is useless, so the situation is really stressful.”

Isa – Spain

“In Spain, people were not taking the situation seriously at all and they were laughing about it, some people still do. So the Government has taken very strict measurements. I live in Málaga which is the second city with more infected people after Madrid, at least for now, we will see how this goes. So people here are mostly scared. The streets are empty, there are just police cars patrolling the city giving fines to the few people that decide to go out. Another thing that the government implemented a few days ago is that, if you have to go out it needs to be alone. If you go out with someone it can costs you from 600 to 1000€.
For my part, I feel good, I would like to go out of course, but I try not to think about it. This is my 9th day at home and I know there are a lot more to come so that’s how it is. Anyway I have a terrace and I can enjoy the sun, so it is not that bad. When I think about the people in my neighbourhood that have these tiny houses without any kind of balcony I realise how lucky I am. This is going to be hard but we have to keep in mind that we need to stay at home, safe. There have been some riots next to where I live. It is a very poor district and I feel very sorry that they have to stay locked in those houses.”

Ilann – Portugal

“In portugal, the government reacted quite quickly I think, even if for the people it is far from being enough. I live in the highly industrialized region of Leiria, in the centre of portugal. As soon as the first cases were reported, the city became deserted, the schools closed, the state pays about 65% of the salary to a member of the couple to look after the children. We were advised not to go out except in extreme necessity etc.. These were the first big measures. People who could stay at home, and very quickly most of the businesses closed down. Nevertheless, the virus continued to spread, and last Wednesday (March 18) the president declared a state of emergency. This had not happened since the April 25, 1974 revolution. People around me do not trust the hospital structures in the country. They are afraid of a new economic crisis, they are even afraid for the democracy of the country. We have no formal ban on staying at home, but since all the structures and shops have closed, here in Leiria, we are almost at a standstill. Only factories and shops of necessity are open. Personally, I am waiting for the situation to pass, avoiding unnecessary risks. And I hope that, economically speaking, Portugal will pull through. “

Jasmine – England

“Regarding the current coronavirus situation, being a student in final year at my University is strange. For most of us we have been left feeling lost, as it feels like our university experience is now suddenly over. We feel robbed, like our time has been cut short, that we didn’t get our goodbyes that we wanted, and left with no idea what comes next. It is increasingly stressful as we also have not been informed whether our assignments, projects and exams are still going ahead, so we are all in a strange state of limbo with university at the moment. The stress is increased more by the UK government’s lack of action, especially for university students like myself. Today public transport in London is starting to be postponed, and it’s looking like soon this will spread to other areas of the UK. For students, this is especially worrying due to the fact most of us don’t own our own vehicles and it is our sole method of transport. Furthermore, there is a lack of support from the government and businesses to support customer service workers, which the majority of university students are, as most of us now are left without pay and some without job security either. It is an unnerving time for everyone in the UK, however us final year students are particularly stressed as we really don’t have any idea what is happening next.”

Alex – Whales

“Honestly this whole thing is really awful, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time for me, one month until my final uni exam ever. But now this final exam is going to be online along with all the rest of my lessons this term. Which really is not ideal, and it’s not possible to receive the same amount of support that I would if I was getting taught in class. Meetings with my dissertation supervisor now have to be over Skype when meeting them and having a real conversation where they can physically see what I’m seeing when I got through it is not an option anymore. I really don’t think the support we’ll get online is anywhere near as effective as it would be in person. So for this I am really annoyed and it’s causing me quite a bit of stress. Stress that adds to the already growing about the actual situation in the world and whether my family members (especially the at risk ones) are safe and healthy. And for me, someone who lives alone, any self isolation can be so lonely. Luckily I have Ana who I can call anytime and speak to. There’s so much uncertainty around the future and when this whole thing is gonna blow over. I still see loads of people outside my window as if there’s nothing going on, when I feel really uncomfortable when I go outside and am very mindful of what I touch. And the fact that our university didn’t decide to do anything until yesterday when places everywhere else were shutting down really made me uncomfortable as I didn’t want to miss class but I didn’t want to increase my chances of picking up the virus and passing it to someone that is at risk. I also don’t feel comfortable going into work because if the risk of catching the virus so I am now unable to make money to pay for things like food which is a big hindrance to my future plans. So it’s been a difficult time just coming to terms with what’s going on, partnered with the stress of deadlines that won’t be pushed back, even after what has happened and the now lack of support available. And it’s also affected my future plans for after I’ve finished all my uni work, plans where I would relax and visit my friends and make new memories, and none of that will happen now which adds to the growing weight on my shoulders. Very difficult times which I never thought I’d have to live through.”

Kate – Poland

“I am an Irish citizen who moved to Warsaw from The Hague two weeks ago for work. Being in totally new surroundings during the outbreak of coronavirus has been very strange. Poland was one of the first countries in Europe to close its borders completely. Although the number of confirmed cases is very low in proportion to the huge population, the government recognised that the Polish healthcare system can’t handle a situation like Italy so they favoured a strict approach. 10 days is the official length of the lockdown and everybody is working from home and the streets are almost empty. There is a high likelihood that this lockdown will be extended. It’s strange as an expat because technically I could have left to go back to Ireland or The Hague for this lockdown to spend time with loved ones but I feared that I wouldn’t gain re-entry, especially from the Netherlands which has many cases. Social distancing isn’t ideal but we have no other choice and we know it will be better long term.”

Pavel – Czech Republic

“Firstly, I would like to describe the current situation. Czech republic is at the moment in a quarantine mode, which means that people are supposed to be in their homes and are allowed to go outside mainly for purpose of work, grocery, hospital, post office and other necessary elements. Nevertheless. it is not that strict as in Italy so we are allowed to go for a walk to the park or have a trip in the nature, but any gathering of people is forbidden. My feelings about it: first governments precautions were quite a shock but later I have realized that those steps had to be done. Nowadays, it is even easy to put away a lot of my rights (travelling, gathering, social life, etc.) for a better good of a society. I feel really responsible not to spread the virus if I have it and protect the elder ones so I obey hygiene rules and wear protective face mask everywhere outside the house. Nevertheless, many people have problems of understanding the seriousness of the current situation. It did not change my life that much because I am in a final year of my bachelor programme so I have been writing my thesis at home for most of my time anyway. Government is really supportive even though they do mistakes. The coronavirus has united the whole population, we are helping each other and many volunteer movements have started to help people who need it. In a summary, it is not that difficult to get used to a quarantine and lack of right if health is at stake.”

Kathrin – Austria

“So, I’m living in Vienna, Austria and since last Thursday (March 12) Corona hits our city. It wasn’t the first case back then in Austria, but the government talked and acted more serious about this pandemic. I think the situation in Italy finally shook our country and it was time to start preventing an equal situation. Life changed radically since Monday. Many people underestimated the Coronavirus, it was something in China, then in Asia, eventually it was the thing in Italy, but our society didn’t thought it could catch our « protected » social state.
Now it’s suddenly a thing in Austria. The last days were different from what all of us have ever experienced. Homeoffice, quarantine, unemployed, over challenged – those are the topics now. And thankful. Thankful for all the hardworking people, who are maintaining our system. Although Covid-19 did something good with us, with the community. We are helping each other, fighting one thing.
Thus the weather is so sunny and warm right now, people are going for their « social-distancing » walk and you meet so many others and think « Hey it’s so nice to see this people walking just with their families or beloved ones ». And in the same moment you feel bad for taking your short walk – such a controversial feeling. Everyday feels like this beautiful, quiet Sunday.”

Eraste – Germany

“I don’t really know how to explain the situation in Germany. I guess I would just describe it as “uncertain” since everybody is just waiting for the next thing to happen… To slow down the spread of the virus, the government decided to ban travels and to close everything except for the essentials like supermarkets, hospitals and pharmacies. Just yesterday Angela Merkel adressed the nation to announce additional measures and to advice everybody to stay home. However we are not in complete lockdown yet – but I guess soon we will since Bavaria decided to do so. We’ll see. To be honest I am not scared of the virus or the situation but I am aware of its seriousness, since we can all see its impact on people’s health, the world economy and our general way of life. We are all staying at home. I just started an internship but I have to work in home office now, like most of the people in our company and Germany in general. It’s just hard to see how apparently everything is falling apart and we can do nothing but stay home and wait until it’s over. I feel like I am watching a movie: I can do nothing but observe and wait for the ending which will hopefully be a good one. But I am hopeful and convinced that the situation will have a good ending and the uncertainty will be over one day. The only question that remains is When?”

Tim – The Netherlands

“It took the Dutch government a really long time to realize that this virus was gonna impact the country in the scale that we’re in right now. When the outbreak happened in China and later Italy we didn’t take any measurements so it was very easy as a country to get infected. Once the first person was found in Holland with corona, it literally spread as a wildfire. Due to the speed of measurements taken by the government the virus impacted Holland quite bad. Lots of companies like retail shops, transport companies, airlines and even insurance companies will eventually most likely fall down.
I, myself, am not that scared for the virus itself because it won’t impact me compared to what it could do to other people. But it’s very annoying to be quarantined, not be able to go out for food and drinks and have a long distance relationship. It’s pretty frightening to experience this pandemic, because no one know where it’s gonna lead to. Are these taken measures enough to keep the virus from spreading or is this just the beginning of something way much worse?”

Anya – Latvia

“Shortly, Latvian government asked its citizens to consider self isolation and work from home. We closed our borders on March 17, which made a lot of international students to purchase extremely expensive flights. All schools and majority of the local offices/production companies are closed, unfortunately many people are left on unpaid leave for the uncertain time period. Businesses are in the great state of crisis, as we depend on the tourism the most and the majority of our citizens depend on the work abroad. Some of the banks offer small 0% credits for the people who experience financial crisis due to the work shortage. As far as we know the majority of public spaces (shops, stations, etc) provide disinfectants and gloves.
Personally, I feel awful due to the overall panic and the fact that both of my parents were influenced by the virus financially. My mom lost a job opportunity, and my father’s salary got reduced by 40% due to his close operations with the people. My bachelor defence and graduation is probably going to be cancelled or postponed. Also, I am supposed to conduct research for my diploma, which was supposed to be based on the group interview, therefore, I still don’t know if it is going to happen.”

Elerin – Estonia

“The situation in Estonia during the corona virus outbreak is for now for most of the citizens quite calm. We have under 300 identified cases for now, but the country is preparing for it to jump up any day. The government acted very quickly after having seen how the situation escalated in Italy. Therefore, the government called out a special situation in the country seven days ago (March 12). The special situation has made all schools, universities, free time activities like cinemas, theaters, gyms and many more closed. Most of the department stores have shortened their opening times, however, for now the government hasn’t set any limitations on that. Maybe most importantly the government has recreated the border control and not everyone is allowed to enter the country.
The President, prime minister and health organisations have all recommended people to stay at home, isolate themselves and go out as less as possible. People are taking it very seriously, a lot of offices have changed it to home offices. That is also how all the schools are functioning – the studying hasn’t been stopped but goes on online using all different kinds of e-learning sites and methods.
I have been isolating myself at home for 5 days by now. I have been completely alone during that time and so far it is not making me go crazy. You really feel like life has stopped everywhere around you, like the world is a completely different place where everyone just took a step back and called out for a reality check. I am very happy to see many musicians, trainers etc do live-concerts and live workouts on Facebook. Even though we are not like Italians – outgoing and singing on our balconies, we do keep together during these complicated and confusing times. The pandemic let’s the society put everything in perspective – re-evaluate the priorities and go on with the life closer than before.”

Nanna – Denmark

“The situation in Denmark at the moment, is that all schools, kindergartens etc. are closed and has been since thursday last week (March 12). Furthermore most companies has send their employees home to work. Wednesday our prime minister announced some new restrictions saying maximum 10 people together at a time. And most shops besides supermarkets and pharmacies should close. But we do not have curfew yet. The mood of the population is mixed. Many are paranoid and scared. While others are a little more calm. Personally I’m not scared. But of course it’s very frustrating to be in such an unknown situation, and not knowing when the situation is turning. A thing that impresses a lot of people is to see how the population stick together. Many is signing up as volunteers to help our healthcare. It’s lovely to see.”

Fridrik – Iceland

“Relative to its small size, Iceland has been hit quite hard with the virus. It is a small society with an isolated herd immune system and where everybody knows each other. In situations like this, rumours become common and people are prone to a paranoid hysteria – blaming tourists and neighbours alike. The atmosphere is quite uncomfortable yet everyone is trying their best to weather it out. Despite this, everyone is deeply proud of how seriously and effectively the state, healthcare system, and even private companies, have taken to fighting the pandemic. Hundreds of samples are taken each day, the ban on public gatherings has been respected, and phone companies have even provided people with free, unlimited internet to incentivise self-quarantine. The main issue, however, is the impact it has had on Iceland‘s tourism dependent economy, especially with the immediate closure of the US borders to Europe (accounting for about 40% of all flight and tourism revenues, and some 10% of the overall GDP of Iceland). This has caused unemployment to skyrocket and considering Iceland‘s cold climate, people estimate the virus to last for quite some time and well through the peak tourist season.”

Ivana – Croatia

“My take on this whole situation is that the outcome is largely influenced by our own actions and I think we need to stay informed and follow guidelines provided to us and limit the panic because it doesn’t benefit anyone. In Croatia, we should make sure the people at high risk (elderly, cancer patients, etc.) are protected. At this moment there are 67 cases here in Croatia, which is not too bad compared to other countries in Europe. There were a few days where supermarkets were empty but they adapted quickly so there aren’t really any shortages. Most of my friends have left for their hometowns as classes have been suspended for two weeks or are being held online so I am a bit bored at times, but we have found ways to socialize through Discord servers and video chatting. It was important that the classes continue because a teachers strike happened last year so losing anymore school hours was not an option here. This outbreak mainly impacted me by ruining several travel plans but I’m trying to make the best of it by focusing on things I can do from home.”

Theodora – Greece

“It’s really strange all of this. This situation is really hard. In Greece the government follow the steps of Italy because they are afraid of the number of people that are sick. It’s not so bad for me because I’m one week at home and I’m trying to find ways to take advantage from this. But the weather is so nice whole the week and i see the sun only from the window. The government advance to stay home but you can go for a walk apart from supermarket or pharmacy. But I stay home because there are people that we need to care about. We are young and healthy but it doesn’t mean that we will never get in their place.”


ASIE

Meric – Turkey

“The main problem here in Turkey is that people are not aware of how deadly this virus is. This is also the case for the youth and the educated people. In rural areas, the problem is even bigger since the older generation believes it is an external attack towards Turkey, and they refuse to stay home and believe prayers and such will protect them. The lack of state authority in the subject, unfortunately, will cause deadly consequences. Precautions were taken relatively early, officially we have 191 people infected, and two patients have lost their lives. Most of us are now scared about what is going to happen. Many people, including myself, realized how dangerous the situation is when the government cancelled the schools in Turkey. There are tons of disinformation on the Internet; however, the students are mostly using Twitter to keep in touch with government actions and to keep up with the news. Although we have problems with social distancing and such, I have started to realize people became more aware compared to the last few days as streets of Ankara seems empty.”

Zaid – Malaysia

“About 4 days ago, people who were infected with COVID19 were around 400 something in Malaysia and last night (March 16), it got up to 650+ that’s how fast the number shoots up. It is an absolute catastrophic over here. Never have I ever experienced anything like this before. Basically from March 18 to March 31st, Malaysia has been declared to be in a controlled environment meaning that you could only go out to get groceries, petrol pump station and only the main priorities. Other than that, gotta stay home. That’s how it is over here Pauline, everyone is on their ‘holiday’ for the time being until 31st March. That’s how it is over here. Honestly I’m feeling neutral. There are times when I feel it’s too dangerous at certain major areas like Kuala Lumpur but then sometimes I feel like at the suburbs it’s not as bad as it could be. It took government some time to actually implement this when they could have done it a while ago but who am I to say what’s right and what’s wrong.”

Sehee – South Korea

“I think the situation is getting better here and the government is doing well in domestic and also with foreign country, it doesn’t refuse foreigners or close the airport. Lots of Korean are proud of our medical system and really appreciate about it. So that’s a strong power which make Korean to take care of ourselves really hard as a way we can do for helping government and the system. Things are slowly stabilizing, so if the system runs like this, I believe it’ll be over soon. And of course, I think we should continue to work on our own like we do now.”


AMÉRIQUE DU NORD

Maggie – Canada

“I am a university student in Ontario, Canada. Coronavirus started slowly here as we watched it explode in other countries, but sure enough, just over a month ago, we got our first case. Now we are seeing large numbers of new daily cases and people have begun to die. The provincial government has responded this week by calling a provincial emergency and shutting down schools, restaurants, libraries, and large gatherings. The Federal government has also closed the borders to all non-Canadians and non-Americans. Fear has steadily grown, and people continue to hoard food and hygiene items, resulting in limited stocks on shelves. So many community members are struggling to feed their families as they have kids home and are out of work. Fortunately, the National government has responded and will begin to compensate people for any financial loss. However, the most amazing thing that has come from this is a new community Facebook group in my city, which thousands of people have joined to either reach out for help, or to help others with rides, groceries, or advice. With both elderly grandparents, and an autoimmune-compromised parent, I am quite anxious about the situation and feel as though people are not taking it seriously enough. Too many people are still going about life without precaution. I hope all of us here in Canada see the severity of this soon in order to prevent the horror we are seeing in other countries.”

Kara – USA

“All the universities in my state have switched to an online format for the rest of the semester. Many students didn’t take the virus seriously at first and used the time off for partying, but now they’re starting to realize how bad the situation is. We have been mandated by our universities to move back to our parents’ homes, which most people are not happy about, but we understand the reasoning for it. Of course, lots of people are stocking up on guns and ammunition because they are afraid of hungry people breaking into their homes for food. It’s frustrating because those same people are typically opposed to any government efforts to aid less wealthy people with buying the food they need. A good thing is that most people are participating in social distancing and trying to do their part in minimizing the damage.”


AMÉRIQUE DU SUD

Oriane – Bolivia

“In Bolivia, there are right now 12 confirmed cases of Coronavirus, but we can imagine that there are a lot more, considering that people don’t do the test or don’t declare themselves. Very quickly, the government took strong measures to help prevent the virus to spread in the country: close all educational institutions, bars, restaurants and clubs, stop flights to and from Europe, and now is even closing all borders in land and in the air. The night curfew schedules are getting longer every day, but for now there is no containment imposed, nationwide speaking. A total containment would be a social and economic disaster, as most of the Bolivian earn their living from day to day. The majority of the Internationals are trying to leave the country before the borders close. As the volunteer coordinator of a Bolivian NGO working with kids in Cochabamba, I see volunteers leaving every day. We all face a strong dilemma between returning to our home-country, which generally has more cases of Coronavirus, or facing the risk to be stuck in Bolivia. Today, I made the decision of staying.”

Ana – Brazil

“COVID-19 in Brazil has been a very difficult issue to handle. President Bolsonaro, even though in the middle of the pandemic outbreak, travels, does not complies with international protocols recommended by the WHO and brings the coronavirus to the country, along with his delegation. Nonetheless, the president tries to hide his irresponsibility and incompetence behind a war of confusing narratives, promoting public confusion and misinformation by spreading fake news. Who ends up suffering the most in this situation are the people from the bottom levels of society, notably the population living in the favelas. We lack social responsibility enough to see our supermarkets and other smaller commercial establishments raise the prices of all foods, hand sanitiser, other personal hygiene products to achieve fatter profits. We lack social responsibility enough to see many young people still attending to parties and pubs, to the cinema and other places we are advised to avoid only because they fail to have empathy and respect for the more vulnerable. So many people do not have water to drink in their houses… imagine to wash their hands? A lot of houses in the favelas are so small… imagine having to share a single room with six people during quarantine? What about the homeless even? Most people in Brazil can’t afford to not go to work as they need the money to eat and to provide to their families and their employer refuses to grant them a paid leave.
In summary, the situation in Brazil is chaotic: doctors living in a complete mess, having to manage the lack of structure, material and equipment, young people with no sense of community, a completely unprepared, ignorant government that lacks any moral principles and social responsibility. I, personally, am expecting a major disaster in Brazil, and everyday I wish I will turn out to be wrong.
Considering it is a highly transmissible disease, the government approach of doing nothing is so dangerous to the population! The other day, president Bolsonaro said it was a “fantasy”, made up by the dominant media to scare people, a pharmaceutical industry strategy to profit, as they would have invented the virus, spread it around the globe and would later sell its cure for a high price. The guy is lunatic and so irresponsible towards brazilian’s lives.”


AFRIQUE

Lahcen – Morocco

“I’m a travel guide. Already today, I spent the whole day with French clients, twenty-five people. I accompanied them for a week for a trek to Merzouga and they can’t find flights back home. After the death of my father two years ago I decided to leave my valley in the Moroccan High Atlas for the studies of my little brother and sister, and also to work for them. I moved to Marrakech for the future of both of them. Then there with this virus, all my groups are cancelled so I have no more work. I decided to go back to the valley, I even took a credit to be able to feed my little family. The Moroccan government has made a great and unexpected effort but it is a part of the people who do not respect all the conditions.”


OCEANIE

Katie – Australia

“So right now In Australia there is a complete panic and a lot of anxiety. I work in a pharmacy and these last few weeks have been crazy and people are stockpiling everything in the store. People have also become very aggressive and greedy when shopping and this has been largely shown through fighting between customers. The government has banned an excessive of 500 in a single place, as well as advising to stay inside, this has caused a lot of people to lose their jobs and uncertainty for small business. As a whole I feel that the government here has acted very slowly on the issue compared to other countries, as well as people are becoming very greedy and panicked when shopping. There is nothing on the shelves in my pharmacy or in the supermarkets.”


Pauline Gauer

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