After the events at the beginning of March, I decided to put my regular Monday Postcards on hold for a bit and write updates about my daily life during the coronavirus (Covid-19).
This thread will be updated regularly (I aim at daily updates). It starts with the most recent entry at the top. I have also written a longer part about my past weeks in Thailand, right after the outbreak of the disease. (Read more about it in the Post about Week 1 of Social Distancing.)
I would like to use this thread to share the knowledge we have gained in Asia over the past weeks – how did we live, cope with fake news, and how or social life changed. I know for a lot of you, especially in Europe and the US, this is a very new situation. It is for me too, I just had a bit more time to get “used” to it. (If you can ever really get used to it).
I called it the “No Panic Diary” because I want this to be a “virtual discussion”. On the one hand, I share, rant and also calm down by writing. On the other, I would like to give you a platform where you can ask, share and discuss about the current situation as well. It is a very new situation for all of us and maybe this diary helps us to connect and support each other. If you have any questions, you can comment below these updates, send me an email or contact my via social media. There are no silly questions and I am happy to talk.
First and foremost, do not panic, stay calm and stay at home! Please follow the instructions by your governments and be smart.
Day 18 and Day 19
Three weeks ago, I boarded a plane back to Austria. Looking back, it is strange to see how fast the whole world has changed in less than a month. When I arrived, Austria was one of the first European countries after Italy to impose restrictions on our daily lives. Measures I would have never thought possible have now become the norm in many countries.
I remember when I talked to friends in February that China was imposing a full lockdown, we all said that measures like these – borders shut, people not allowed to leave their houses and our movement monitored by drones – would never be possible in Europe. A few weeks after, we have been proven wrong.
Slowly, I could also see how the pandemic spread and how it is affecting us in different ways. In Europe we are trying to prevent our healthcare systems from collapsing by flattening the curve. In other countries, the pandemic is a new addition to a range of problems they have been facing.
A month ago, I was in touch with my partners in India and there were already the first signs that India may go into lockdown as well. Since then, a 21-day curfew has been introduced for the whole country. I am working with a group of women to make crochet products for Pelagona and I am regularly checking how they are doing. I was glad to hear that all of the women are doing OK.
A similar situation is happening in Uganda where I recently started to collaborate with artisans for baskets. Kampala and the villages are in full lockdown as well. Operationally, we not only have the problem of how to get the products to the city and then out of the country. Even simple things like taking pictures of the products are a challenge, as many of the women do not have phones with cameras and need to wait until the lockdown is over and somebody can come take pictures. Kenya, where I also have a partnership with weavers, does not have an official curfew but many places are closed and people are encouraged to stay at home.
What all of these countries have in common is that Covid-19 is not the only challenge they face. The concept of space, for example, is very different from the one we have in Europe. The density in the cities but also at home is much higher, as more people have to live in smaller places. Consequently, the risk of infection is also much higher. The situation poses an extreme risk for the very poor given the lack of access to healthcare. Many households do not have running water or sanitary systems. People need to walk to public toilets. Disinfectant products are expensive and it is not possible to regularly wash hands without running water. Already before the pandemic, many families struggled to provide at least one meal a day for their children. Many people live from one day to another, there are no savings to live from in times like these. If they cannot go to work, they lose their only income and they do not know how to feed their families.
I started Pelagona long before the current pandemic to support those who often lack support. At the moment, I am working really hard on how to further develop the business and ensuring that Pelagona products will keep supporting these talented artisans around the world. I am in touch with all the partners and their families to see if they are OK. I will keep you posted about the situation.
Day 16 and Day 17 – When Austrians Need to Wear Masks
Since today, Austrians are required to wear masks, for now, we need to wear them at the supermarkets.
For me personally, this is nothing new. I wrote about it in the Diary for week 1. In Asia, wearing a mask is nothing out of the ordinary. Even in “normal” times, people wear a mask when they are sick to prevent others from getting sick. When the news about the virus hit Thailand, one of the first things locals did was to buy masks. Most of the people without masks were foreigners.
When I went to the supermarket, very few people were wearing masks. Some people wore scarves as a substitute if they could not get a mask as yet. When I left the supermarket, there was a staff member handing out masks and I overhead a shopper enquiring why the mask requirement was not being enforced yet. “We do not have enough masks.”, was her answer. Let’s see how fast we can get all the masks needed. I heard on the news that the big supermarket chains will run through 3 million masks per day.
According to our government and the media, Austrians are not used to wearing masks because of our culture. I would actually not base this on “cultural” reasons. In my opinion, the attitude to masks in Asia is probably a different one because they have more experience with pandemics. Most of my friends who have experienced SARS in the early 2000s. Korea was hit by MERS in 2015. Hence, the pandemic strategies of the region have been tested for much longer than here and people had more time to get used to wearing masks.
If you are new to wearing masks:
- Yes, it is really weird when you wear a mask for the first time.
- Sometimes, especially at the beginning, breathing feels weird and it is a bit itchy. But after some time, you will get used to it.
- Make sure that the mask really covers all the parts it needs to cover. (Some people forget to cover their nose.)
- Only touch the strings on the side and avoid touching the mask when wearing.
- When I go out to the supermarket, I bring a separate bag. After I am done with everything, I take the mask off (at the strings) and then put it in the bag and not just dump it somewhere in my jacket or car.
- A mask is no substitute for keeping distance.
- THESE MASKS DON’T PROTECT YOU FROM GETTING THE VIRUS, THEY PREVENT THE VIRUS FROM SPREADING.
We are starting the third week of social distancing and I would like to share some food for thought. I came across this quote by an (unfortunately unnamed) Indian doctor on Instagram:
“Social distancing is a privilege. It means you live in a house large enough to practise it. Hand washing is a privilege too. It means you have access to running water. Hand sanitisers are a privilege. It means that you have money to buy them. Lockdowns are a privilege. It means you can afford to be at home. Most of the ways to ward the Corona off are accessible only to the affluent. In essence, a disease that was spread by the rich as they flew around the globe will now kill millions of the poor. All of us who are practising social distancing and have imposed a lockdown on ourselves must acknowledge how privileged we are. Many Indians won’t be able to do any of this.”
Today Austria has imposed stricter rules on social distancing. If you feel the urge to complain about the situation, please think about those who do not have this “privilege”. You may not see it as a privilege because your personal freedom, choices and daily lives is limited. But I do hope that this quote opens your eyes that there are many people who are not in this “privileged” situation. In India, many parts of Africa and many other countries, people have to walk kilometres to access water or to be able to use a toilet. The water tap then has to be shared with many others who also walked far distances and social distancing is just not possible. Most family members will live together in very small spaces. They have daily struggles which we probably cannot even imagine. And probably, they are not scared of Covid-19, because there are so many other issues they have to deal with.
By staying at home and doing everything we can to prevent the spread of this virus, we not only protect ourselves but also those who are not protected by anyone. Please stay at home and acknowledge and make use of your privilege!