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Postcard Special – No Panic Diary Week 1

Postcard Special – No Panic Diary Week 1

Postcard Special No Panic Diary Coronavirus

After the events of last week, I have 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. At the bottom of this thread, I have also written a longer part about my past weeks in Thailand, right after the outbreak of the disease. 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.

Read more about week 2, week 3, week 4 and week 5.

March 21 – Day 6: So Close but Yet so Far

I am sitting with my laptop looking outside into the rain. It is almost therapeutic. The world has turned such a different place in such a short period of time. But for a minute I could even forget about it while watching the raindrops falling on the window.

Last night I decided that I will stop reading or watching the news right before I go to sleep. I think I am pretty good at staying calm. But, frankly, I find it really upsetting to be reminded of the current situation right before I go to sleep.

Even though we are all in isolation at the moment, I have reconnected and caught up with many of my friends. I would even say I am in touch with them more than under “normal” circumstances. I am in Austria and to many of them I would be really close. At the same time, it is really far. But we are lucky that we can stay in touch so easily with video or the “old school” phone calls. Everyone of us is thinking the same: we need to stay positive. We do not know what is ahead of us. We all have the same fears: apart from the virus, everyone is worried about their jobs, their family. But it is good to know that even though we all cannot be physically be there for each other, there are other ways to connect.

March 20 – Day 5

Another day of sun – but I also am a bit glad that the weather forecast is bad for the next few days. Even though we are asked to stay inside, I keep seeing pictures of people who still flood the parks and wander the streets unnecessarily. I even saw people on outings and picnics on Instagram. I am getting really annoyed when I see people not only being irresponsible – we have reached a stage where we can see what can happen. It is small things which we all can do, they will not hurt but the overall effect we can achieve is really big. Maybe the bad weather will force everyone to stay inside.

Apart from the effect of the virus health-wise, we can see the first effects on the economy. Many companies had to let people go and whoever I talk to, people are worried. It is also a big burden on those who run businesses and are responsible for their employees.

I saw today that the postal service for parcels from non-EU countries will be stopped. I need to wait what will happen to the postal system within the EU and how it will affect my online business. So far, we need to take everything step by step and see what the next day will bring.

My friends in China are telling me it will take 60 days. According to them, Shanghai is slowly getting back to normal life. From what I hear about Hong Kong, there have been new cases after a period of stability. I do not know if this is confirmed but the rumours are that people had been travelling abroad and brought the virus back with them.

March 19 – Day 4

I left the house for an urgent errand at the supermarket. Instead of music, shoppers are asked via the loudspeakers to keep a safety distance of 2 metres. Most of the people really tried but it is challenging – especially in the department with fresh fruits and vegetables where everything is already crammed under normal circumstances. One thing which always strikes me when I come back to Austria is the hurry at the cashier: the products are scanned with light speed and while I am still trying to get everything into my basket, I am asked to hand them my member card and pay for the products. In Asia, the cashier a) is in no hurry and b) helps you to pack the bags. I always wonder how older people deal with that speed. In times like these it also means that the next person will not keep their safety distance because they get nervous that they cannot start packing and will hold up the line.

I also used the day to have a very productive brainstorming call with a friend who also runs their own online business. I guess the key to successfully work in times of social distancing is to set up virtual meetings as if we met in real life and exchange ideas.

I hope you all had a chance to open up your windows and let some sunshine in!

March 18 – Day 3 of Social Distancing

The sun was shining the whole day and everything is in bloom. I spent my breaks on the terrace. As I work in the digital field, I am fortunate that working from home is nothing new for me. For all those of you who are new to it: do not worry, it will get easier. It just takes some time to adjust to this new lifestyle.

As we are all asked to stay at home, I decided to make use of this social distancing situation. We are all at home, on our phones and on Instagram (even though many of us will probably deny it). As I put some new products on Pelagona today, I thought it would be nice to share more information about the product via video messages.

I am also currently working on a longer blog post for The Pink Lookbook, which will most likely go online tomorrow. I still have a lot of (also travel-related) content lined up, but I am thinking how I can adapt my articles to what is currently going on. I do not want to jump on the “corona-bandwaggon” with the same content telling you that now is the time to meditate or to sort the pictures on your phone (no joke, I saw that this morning on TV) but provide you with something useful.

I am still regularly checking the news and waiting in front of the TV. Things are changing quite fast. The Austrian government has announced EUR 38 billion (in addition to the EUR 4 billion announced last weekend) to support Austrian businesses. A lot of people will have to register as unemployed. To avoid crowds – and potential infections – at the employment agencies, it is now possible to register as unemployed online or via phone.

Hundreds of people are stranded at the Austrian-Hungarian border, as Hungary shut its borders and refuses to let Non-Hungarians pass. The Austrian government managed to negotiate that Romanians, Bulgarians and Serbians who are all trying to get home, can pass at night. During the days, there is a traffic jam of about 60 kilometres.

March 17 – Day 2 of Social Distancing

It does not really feel as if many things have changed for me. I woke up at my usual time, had breakfast and spent the day working from home.

Even though it feels differently, my plans have changed completely. But this is applicable to all of us. I cancelled all the meetings I had planned for future trips – it will not come as a surprise that everything is shut there anyways.

We still do not have an official quarantine or curfew for the whole country as yet. There are certain regions in Austria which are under full quarantine. We are all wondering if this will be extended to the whole country soon like in Spain. Flights to and from Austria will be discontinued soon. In contrast to other countries, people with coronavirus symptoms are asked to stay at home first and call the hotline. Then it will be decided what measures will be taken. The reason is to avoid people flooding clinics and hospitals and potentially infecting themselves, the doctors or other patients. Prescriptions are now available electronically so that people do not flood the waiting rooms.

I keep reading stories of Austrians who are stranded abroad because they did not travel back early enough. I am torn between what I should write here. I completely understand if you are abroad for work or in a remote region where it is tough to get back and it takes longer. It also happened to many that borders of the country they travelled to were shut at short notice. But I am sure there were a lot of people who just kept thinking “It won’t be that bad anyways and, worst case, they will fly me out. I want to enjoy my holidays now.”

First of all, having an Austrian passport is a great privilege. A privilege many people fail to ignore. We are taken care of. But at the same time, we have a duty as citizens. On March 12, the government published that all travelers from Austria should head back home immediately. It is completely irresponsible to ignore this, stay on holidays and then think your government will fly you out. Apart from the cost – which will be covered by taxpayers’ money – we need our military and support staff in Austria. Their terms have already been extended because we lack people here to deal with the virus.

The current situation is very different to a “normal” catastrophe abroad where citizens can be flown out. For example, think about this: if there is an earthquake in a certain place, it is confined to one area where Austrians are stuck. But currently, Austrians are scattered across the world. There is even a group of scientists stuck in the Amazon rainforest. It is extremely challenging for our government to get everyone out. Furthermore, this is done with the support of our military. In the hypothetical example, we could send them abroad to get you, but at the moment all the military staff is needed at home as well.

Please be smart with your travel decisions. Also in times when there is no coronavirus crisis. Always check the travel information by your government and if they ask you to come back, do it as soon as possible. Being stranded is not fun – I was stranded for 35 hours at the airport in Manila once. In times like these you may be stranded for much longer. And also think about those who have to get you out of there, just saying…

March 16 – First Day with Strict Measures

We spent the early morning preparing my dad’s work for the emergency mode, updating the website and talking to his assistants on how to handle the situation.

I carried out a really interesting interview for Pink Lookbook. This is the advantage of my job: remote and flexible work is normal for me and it allows me to also virtually meet and reconnect with inspiring people. If today is your first day working from home, I guess you may struggle a bit. Do not worry, it will get better! I also published a guide on how to successfully work remotely from home a few days ago, I hope it helps! (It takes a bit of time but you will be able to adjust to this new work life soon.)

Postcard Special No Panic Diary Empty Supermarket Shelves
The panic has arrived in Austria – empty supermarket shelves have become as normal as in Asia.

At lunchtime I had to head out to the local supermarket to run errands for my dad’s work and a few things for my grandparents. The supermarket was less crowded than usual but there were more people running errands than I expected. Toilet paper was completely sold out, soap, pasta and instant food were almost gone as well. Again, please do not hoard – there is absolutely no need for it! The government assured that there are enough supplies and supermarkets will be restocked regularly.

On my way back, I spotted a bunch of teenagers having a casual street meetup. I got so angry – seriously? I thought about yelling out of the car like a crazy lady but decided not to. Maybe that was a mistake and I should have told them off.

Yesterday, my grandmother still insisted that she would go outside “if she wanted some fresh bread” and we had quite a fight with her about her attitude. But she obviously has listened to her friends and the news (maybe even us) that she should stay at home and even admitted that she underestimated the situation. I left the stuff from the supermarket at their doorstep and immediately went back to the car. My grandparents wanted to talk to me and catch up after I had been abroad. But considering I am just off a flight from Asia, I think it is better to keep some distance.

I am glad I changed my flight when I did. Flights to Austria will soon be stopped and most of the planes from Thailand and other countries are full. Borders to Germany are closed. If you are still abroad and can come back, do it as soon as possible!

Meanwhile, Thailand decided on locking down Buri Ram province in the North-East (bordering Cambodia). Songkran, the Thai New Year and the country’s major celebration in April, will be postponed. Rumours are circling around about potential further shut-downs and that people should go stock up on supplies. All my Bangkok peeps, please stay safe, calm and healthy!

A big thank you for those who informed me so early and pushed me to come back to Austria. (The people in question know who I am talking about.) I owe you guys and am really grateful to be able to count on you!

For now, I am back to catching up on some work – with a view to the sunshine outside. Maybe I will move out on the terrace and work from there in a bit.

March 15 – It Is Becoming Stricter and We Are Waiting

My day started early at 3.30 – thank you jetlag (which I usually do not have)! I tried not to but could not not check the updates about the corona situation and saw that the government published stricter rules.

For the past days, Austrians were asked to “reduce social interactions”. I really struggled with that expression, because I had the feeling that many people would not get what it actually means (STAY AT HOME). The weather yesterday was really nice and many people decided to “use the last days outside”. Even on the radio, some moderators say to enjoy the weekend and visit restaurants or parks.

I was not surprised when our chancellor had to stress it again: “Please stay at home!” Otherwise people do not get it. And honestly, I would not be surprised if there was a curfew next week. We probably need it, because there are still people who play the situation down and do not care. It is not the time to hang out in bars anymore!

In the late morning, the government announced that from Monday (16th) onwards, the country will operate in “emergency mode”. We are only allowed to leave the house in 3 cases: those people who absolutely have to go to work (e.g. police, healthcare, grocery stores), for urgent errands or if we need to help others in need. Restaurants will be shut from Tuesday onwards. If people do not comply, the penalty for the restaurant owner will be EUR 30,000 for staying open. Each guest will be fined with EUR 3,700 for illegally going to a restaurant. Parks, soccer fields, playgrounds etc. will also be shut. Tough measures, but probably we need them now.

Soon, the Easter week would have been ahead and many of us would have been off for a week or 10 days. And we survive this every year. Or even longer periods when we think about the Christmas break. If we act fast now and STAY AT HOME, do only the NECESSARY things outside, we can still limit how this virus spreads.

Meanwhile, panic has re-started again in Bangkok and supermarkets are full of hoarders. The number of infections has doubled to over 80 within a few days and there are rumours that the city may go into lockdown as well.

News also reached us that more and more people trying to get back to Austria and facing challenges. I obviously did the right thing by changing my tickets fast. We also postponed the Morocco trip – also a good call because Morocco shut its borders. Just as a reminder for all travelers: this is not the time to travel for pleasure. If you do not absolutely have to travel, do not!

So, I am staying at my parents’ in the Austrian countryside. The sun is shining and we can also use the garden, which is lucky. I also will use the time to finally work on many things I procrastinated about (revamp of pinklookbook.com, additional products and new pages for Pelagona, etc.). I still keep distance.

Until the evening we were debating what will happen to my dad’s work. In the evening, we got the clearer information about how to take things further.

March 14 – Austria

When I landed in Vienna, it was hard to tell that we are in the middle of a pandemic. Immigration and baggage claim was as if it was a normal day. There was no fever check. (There was one before security at Bangkok airport, but it was so crowded that I cannot really tell if that “pistol” really managed to check everyone. On the plane we were also asked if we had travelled to countries such as China or Hong Kong recently.) I guess there is no fever check at Vienna International Airport, because we can still carry the virus even without showing any symptoms. Or maybe you guys know why?

My dad picked me up from the airport and I ignored his mockery of me wearing a mask. Probably he thought I was overreacting.

When I arrived, I did not hug my parents and kept distance. We also agreed that I would use a separate bathroom. I will keep applying this strategy for the next days. Even if it is a bit complicated, I just want to be safe.

I kept checking the news the whole day. Austria decided to ban flights from Italy, Spain, Switzerland and France from March 16 onwards. And I heard from friends who were abroad and changed their tickets that their regular flights were cancelled shortly after they arrived back in Austria.

My parents and I kept discussing how my dad’s work will be affected. We constantly updated the website according to the government regulations. For many people across industries it is a bit ambiguous and many people do not know if they have to go to work. For example, on the one hand, all healthcare institutions have to stay open. But at the same time, everyone wonders if doctors such as dermatologists, gynecologists, dentists, etc. need to stay fully open.

See Also
Monday Postcard 132 Uncertainty

Four areas in Austria were under quarantine and people who recently traveled to these places or were in close contact with somebody who recently traveled there are now required to self-quarantine for 14 days. The government also announced that restaurants would stay open until 3pm the next week, supermarkets, pharmacies, gas stations also stay open but people were being asked to “reduce their social interactions”.

I fell asleep exhausted after the past few days at 6.30 pm – I am really getting old. 😀

March 13 – Acting Fast

The night from March 12 to March 13, my mum texted me saying that our Foreign Ministry issued a worldwide travel warning and that all Austrian travelers are asked to head back as soon as possible. I did not want to risk to be stranded outside of Austria and decided to change my ticket. At 5 am I changed my flight to leave the same day. At this point in time, it was still relatively ok – there were tickets available and the airline hotline was busier than usual but I could still get through.

Postcard Special No Panic Diary Sanitising Gate
Questionable protection measures started popping up across Bangkok – such as these “Auto Sanitizing Gates” which spray people with sanitizer…

I packed the absolutely necessary things, ran some last errands and headed to the airport in the evening. I thought about buying an upgrade and saw that my flight had now been completely booked. At checkin, I mostly spotted Europeans who stopped their holidays early and headed back. Usually, there are many Thai travelers on that plane but I guess because of the situation, many tourists cancelled their plans anyways.

I meticulously sanitized everything – one of the corona cases in Thailand was an immigration officer who probably caught it by touching passports. I do not know if this is scientifically correct. Nevetheless, I even wiped my passport down regularly. I was also wearing a mask for the whole time. I went to the lounge and tried to have a “safety distance” between other people. It was easy, because Suvarnabhumi Airport was dead. I have rarely seen it that empty. It is one of the biggest hubs in Asia and usually it is packed.

On the plane, about half of the passengers wore masks. I think I was the only one to wipe down the seat thought (I also do this in non-corona times, ahem, germophobe…). Because everything happened so fast, I was, frankly, a bit nervous. Before I headed to the airport, I was bombarded with scary news from Austria. When you are then forced to be on your own and disconnected for over 11 hours, it is quite easy to overthink the situation. I was not really able to sleep as usual and watched some comedies.

March 12 – Sudden Changes

On March 12, suddenly everything changed. Italy had locked down the whole country and rumours started to reach me about Austria planning to do the same and even shut its borders. At first, I thought this would not happen. Corona cases were still comparatively low in Austria. Furthermore, as an Austrian citizen, I thought I could go probably back even in the case of a lockdown. I thought by the time I would plan to go back anyways, the situation would have improved.

Postcard Special No Panic Diary Sanitiser Car
Hand sanitiser offered by taxi and Grab drivers in bangkok

But it has definitely become clear to many people that this is way more than “just a flu”. It is a serious risk. I have to admit also my personal attitude has changed. I lived in Shanghai during bird flu. For the longest time, I thought corona would be similar.

In general, Thailand is a very laid-back country with a “saabay-saabay”-attitude. Sabaay-saabay means “everything is ok”. This applies to every day life and catastrophes. Everything will be ok, we do not need to worry! I now live between two extremes: “saabay-saabay” and over-planning and panicking the Austrian way. At the start of the outbreak I said that it would probably be “not as bad”, “just a flu”, or like “SARS and over soon” but I have to take this back. This is way more serious.

What was the situation like in Thailand?

The first big wave started right during Chinese New Year. In Asia, this is the busiest travel time of the year. Countries like China, Korea, Japan and Vietnam celebrate the Lunar New Year and travel back to their families or use it for an extended holiday. It is comparable to the Christmas or summer breaks in Europe or the US.

At this point in time, the news about Wuhan as the epicenter of the disease came out. For Thailand, Chinese are the biggest tourist group and the country’s economy heavily depends on them. I have been in Bangkok during Chinese New Year many times now and I have never seen it as empty as in 2020. Usually, the malls are packed, restaurants full and you can barely use the skytrain. This year, it was even fewer people than on a normal day in the city. I heard some numbers that every year, 1.3 million Chinese tourists visit Thailand during the Chinese New Year period, this year it dropped to 10%. (Side note: I need to check these numbers.)

In my Monday Postcard #118, I wrote an update about what everyday life in Bangkok was like at the beginning of February. Everybody tried to limit being outside and started with what is now called “social distancing”. Restaurants were empty and delivery services extremely busy. It seemed that everyone took a step back. We also changed plans and had more meals at home instead of heading to restaurants.

People started wearing masks, especially the locals. What you need to know about Asia is a very different attitude than in the West. In general, if people feel sick, they wear a mask to protect the people around them. It makes total sense and I really wonder why we have not picked up on that in the West. Anyways, the masks soon became something else: protection against the virus. However, as many doctors explained, a mask only protects from giving the virus to somebody else if you are already sick. It does not prevent you from getting it. However, it felt that more and more people saw it as protection of themselves. Most of the locals on the streets wore masks – only the tourists kept walking around without them.

Postcard Special No Panic Diary Mask
Pulling off the “surgeon-style” with my mask in Bangkok

I started wearing a mask for two reasons: one was the virus, the other one was the pollution. The combination of these two made it challenging: on the one hand we were told to avoid crowded places such as malls or the skytrain. If air quality levels had been similar to Europe, I would have just walked everywhere. However, if pollution is higher than 100 on the index, you really do not want to spend a lot of time outside.

In the beginning, I thought it is silly to wear a mask but I did it for another simple reason: I realized that people felt really nervous if I did not wear it. I thought it is a small thing to comfort others and just wear it when I was outside.

Until about the first week of March, most people thought it is “just like the flu”. I guess this was due to the reason that it had not reach our door steps to an extent as it had in China. Most of my local friends told me that it would be like SARS – it would go away quickly and we all thought it would be over by April.

From Europe, I got two types of reactions: Some were panic messages asking me to immediately come to Austria. There was a period when Thailand was in the news too and Europeans started to warn about travelling to Thailand. I think it sounded very scary from a European perspective. At the same time, others did not seem to be bothered at all or ask what we are going through in Asia. These are the moments where I am reminded that even though we seem so connected via social media, we are still very disconnected and if something is not right at your doorstep, you cannot be bothered.

Every other day there were rumours about a potential lockdown of Bangkok. When the hoarding in Hong Kong started, people started to head to the supermarkets and bought canned foods, toilet paper (of course…) and other stuff. But it was not as extreme as in Hong Kong. Everyone started to carry hand sanitisers with them. Malls, restaurants and condos offered them at the entrances. I even had taxi and Grab drivers who offered sanitisers in their cars. Movie theaters were still open but not many people went. We had tickets for an American comedian but she cancelled the show a month in advance at the end of January. Some events still took place – like the Jewelry Trade Fair but compared to the previous times, it was very empty. So were the malls and pop-ups.

I limited my time outside a lot as well and only headed out if I really had to. Most of the grocery shopping can be done online, I went to my Thai class and ran errands I absolutely had to. I decreased the number of Thai classes and ended up not going anymore to minimise the risk. The cases in Thailand had increased and I saw that new students – also from China – were still admitted at the school. This is not meant in a racist way, but I really wondered how they managed to come to Thailand (get a visa, leave China and enter the country in the first place). We were told to avoid contact with people who recently went to China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and the other corona hotspots at that time. But I found this impossible if I kept going to the school.

For a very long time, the number of people reported to be infected was at around 30-35. I previously had travel plans in Asia. But already from January onwards, I decided to put all of my travel plans on hold.

The narrative slowly shifted at the beginning of March – when we heard that cases in Italy were increasing at an enormous rate. It was less that it affected people in Thailand. But I could see that Europeans suddenly started to change their view from “just another flu in China” (yep, a lot of people think I still live in China…) to “this is going to affect us all”. Suddenly, I got so many messages about the virus in Europe and that people are panicking. It was the same game: many people thought (or still think) it was another type of flu.

Some companies in Thailand started to test home office. Home office in Asia is not a widely used practice, it is much more uncommon than in Europe and not at all comparable to the US. Many companies were initially reluctant to think about contingency plans and run some trial runs for home office.

My partner and I had plans at the end of March. Our initial thinking was – we have made it through the worst in Asia and we did not expect things to change too much. We debated if we should change the trip but decided to wait.

Read more about week 2, week 3, week 4 and week 5.

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