The global story of the pandemic is both staggering and subtle. The immensity of it all — the cases, the countries, the spread — can also be seen through another lens: a vast catalogue of personal moments, experiences and observations.
Yvonne Gordon, Dublin
I never noticed all the sounds of Dublin until they fell silent. It’s an afternoon, but the streets are empty. There are no voices filling the air. There’s no hum of traffic, no footsteps, no rustling of shopping bags. There are no haunting strains from the songs of buskers on Grafton Street. No crowds have gathered, mid-shopping, to listen.
The streets are sunny and bright, but eerily quiet. Even the screeching seagulls seem to have gone. The only noise on Nassau Street, echoing everywhere, is of shop signs squeaking in the wind while mostly empty buses pass by.
The people have deserted the city and moved out to the parks, the mountains and the sea. Cycle lanes are busy. Beaches and promenades are lined with walkers and joggers, everyone sticking to their small family units. Some people are even swimming in the sea, all getting exercise, most maintaining the respectful “social” distance.
And as we’re Irish, the chat and music has simply gone indoors for now. We’re all on the phone, and we’re having virtual happy hours and online fitness classes, watching Instagram chef demonstrations and music performances. People are sharing photos of art projects, baking and uplifting writing.
We Irish have been through a lot. We’re resilient. It’s in our genes. We might be physically distant, but we’re becoming closer than ever, ready to support each other whatever this crisis brings.
Robyn Dixon, Moscow
Okay, here’s my confession. I am not the fittest person. When I walk, it’s more likely to be a gentle stroll across Moscow to check out some foodie haven of burrata, olive oil, pasta and delicacies rather than striding to a gym.
But something clicked recently. A smartwatch with an activity app and a Moscow gym membership helped. I got satisfaction from the rows and rows of little circles tracking my activity and virtual “medals” for my longest exercise streak — ever. Now it was me churning on the ellipticals and lifting weights.
It is painful to admit this. I had never exercised — hard — every day for one entire month. (Why waste weekend time when I could be rolling out ravioli, grinding up spices, kneading bread, watching souffles rise, churning ice cream, inviting friends over and eating?)
Then came the coronavirus. I was put under a 14-day self-isolation regime after returning to Russia on a flight from Europe. That meant no more gym, and no more of the little crosses I was marking off daily in a notebook chronicling my gym attendance.
I am now getting acquainted with an army of YouTube fitness coaches. There’s Gin. There’s Tiffany. There’s Daniel. There’s Body this, Body that, Burn this and Blast that.
My pasta-making machine lies idle. There are no dinner parties, no menus to plan, no wandering in markets. And no pouncing on some prized ingredient found while shopping.
Per Liljas, Uppsala, Sweden
Finding bicycle parking in central Uppsala is usually a challenge. In this town of students and cobblestones, nearly everyone is on two wheels.
As the coronavirus epidemic has grown, I’ve been waiting for this to change. For people to stay at home. But unlike our neighboring countries, Sweden’s schools and workplaces haven’t shut. People still gather by the river to soak up the early spring sun. And I find myself continuing to search for a free spot for my bike as I arrive for work in the mornings.
The normalcy is naturally an illusion. More people ride bikes because they don’t feel safe on the bus. They soak up sun outdoors but stay away from restaurants and public pools. I drop off my kids at day care, but their classes are half-empty, at best, and all the carefully planned teaching has been abandoned. Thousands have lost their jobs.
Our government may have refused to take draconian steps against the virus. But, in a highly unusual address to the nation, the prime minister declared that we should all be prepared for further measures.
Perhaps the milder restrictions we live under now are a curse because it leaves us with all these decisions. Would it be safe for family members from out of town to celebrate our son’s fifth birthday? For how long should my now-unemployed brother self-isolate before spending time with our parents?
No one is used to a situation like this, but us Swedes may be particularly badly prepared. We don’t have any collective memory of hardships. Many of us feel entitled to freedoms, yet still count on the government to fix problems for us. Our society was polarizing before. Solidarity seems to be on the rise. But there is also unease as to whether authorities are taking the appropriate steps. If nothing else, it is shaking people out of their comfort zones.
Carrie Donovan, Gelsenkirchen, Germany
I got a coronavirus test on March 20. Yay? I actually went to a hospital seeking treatment for my weeks-long case of pneumonia and had been told over the phone to expect a blood test and chest X-ray. Over the phone, they said worries about covid-19 are no reason to come. But I had some symptoms.
Hurriedly, I showered and piled a stack of belongings for my husband to deliver to the hospital if I had to stay overnight like last time. I made my way past the empty hand sanitizer dispenser at the entrance and introduced myself at the ER desk, as instructed, expecting to be examined and given treatment.
Instead, the nurse handed me a face mask and gloves. After a short wait, I was directed to an outbuilding strictly for covid-19 cases/testing. A man whose mother and brother live in Baltimore (#smalltimore) stuck a long cotton swab into my throat and both nostrils and told me to call back Monday afternoon, three days after the test.
Monday afternoon? No kidding? No kidding. And no pneumonia treatment or prescription.
I wasn’t even sure what I want the result to be. A positive means quarantine, but a negative means I’ll probably be knocked down even harder if I do get infected.
The test result came back Thursday: negative.