From country to country, world grapples with coronavirus

Sat, 11 Apr 2020 20:04 GMT
Sabrina Messina was in Istanbul when all flights to her home Italy were suddenly canceled due to burgeoning pandemic As the coronavirus pandemic marches into mid-April, with weeks of lockdown behind most of the world but untold weeks still ahead, people f...
From country to country, world grapples with coronavirus

Sabrina Messina was in Istanbul when all flights to her home Italy were suddenly canceled due to burgeoning pandemic

As the coronavirus pandemic marches into mid-April, with weeks of lockdown behind most of the world but untold weeks still ahead, people from around Europe and the globe – Italy, the U.K., Australia, and Armenia – are all dealing with the unprecedented pandemic in their own way.

Sabrina Messina, who divides her time between Turkey and Italy, was in Istanbul when the quarantine began in her home country, one of the worst-hit countries by coronavirus.

Everything was normal at the beginning and “all of a sudden a lot of cases popped up in the north of Italy,” the 50-year-old banker told Anadolu Agency from her house on the island of Sicily, southwest of the “foot” of Italy.

She tried to fly home directly, as usual, but on her day of departure Messina found out that “all the flights to Italy had been canceled,” and it was then that she started panicking.

Eventually Messina made her way to home via Malta to Sicily, where the seriousness of the pandemic grew clearer to her.

“All of my friends who live in Milan” – in northern Italy, especially hard hit by the epidemic – “were very scared, and I got a lot of messages from my doctor friends saying that the situation was out of control and soon the whole region would be closed,” she related.

When the first decree announcing a lockdown in northern Italy was issued on March 8, it sparked a massive, frightened exodus to the south, ironically and inadvertently spreading the virus nationwide.

Messina said she found people’s attitude “very natural,” as “nobody knew what was going on and everybody was trying to find comfort with their own family.”

Recalling the positive morale Italians showed, as in playing instruments or serenading their neighbors or healthcare workers from balconies, Messina said: “But this was only the first week of the quarantine.”

Now, after working from home for some time, Messina accused the Italian government of making “mistakes at the beginning” of the outbreak, including underestimating the number of cases.

“We’re entering the second phase,” she said. “And we have to face economic problems.”

“Unfortunately and fortunately at the same time, we depend on Europe and we will see what they will decide,” she added.

The European Union’s response to the pandemic has been widely criticized as too little, too late, as in Italy alone the death toll has reached nearly 19,000.

Messina also said the virus gives the world a chance to rethink its attitude on climate change as well as cruelty to animals.

Our actions are pivotal

Oceans and a hemisphere away, Andrew Priestley from Melbourne, Australia is among many others in his country who are in self-isolation.

The 37-year-old swimming instructor and his family have been under lockdown since mid-March.

“I’m at home with my wife and two young daughters,” Priestley told Anadolu Agency.

“Doing a lot of reading,” Priestley added. “My wife bought me a really complex Lego set for my birthday, which I enjoyed building.”

Highlighting the importance of self-quarantine, he said: “Our actions as a nation are pivotal to ensuring our health system can help the people who really need it and [that] we minimize the number of really serious cases.”

According to Priestley, the Australian government closely followed expert advice from chief medical officers at the state and national level, including a government body called the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee.

“The Australian public, in my view, have been very good on the whole following advice to minimize the spread of this pandemic,” he added.

“The actions of the general public will be the major factor in how our nation deals with this crisis,” he said.

“This is an unprecedented situation and one that is proving very difficult for governments to respond to around the globe.”

Authoritarian impulse

For Giorgos Tsilis, who has been living in London for the last six years, his work life has changed due to the epidemic as he works longer hours “because some of the admin staff are on furlough.”

The 36-year-old admin assistant said that his personal life has changed as well, as he can’t go out to pursue his hobbies, including playing football, rehearsing with a band, “and of course no pubs, restaurants,” he added.

As in London – like in Turkey – a maximum number of customers are allowed in supermarkets at a time, shopping takes a bit longer, he added.

“Things will get worse as the weather is getting better,” warned Tsilis, who is originally from Greece. “It's harder to stay home when it's sunny, especially in this country.”

What really worries Tsilis is the recession in the wake of the epidemic: “It will be a crisis that will affect everyone and I suppose will challenge more the smallest economies.”

He is also afraid that some governments will take the opportunity to become more authoritarian, adding: “We already have seen that even here in Europe, in Hungary for example.”

Last month, Hungary’s parliament granted sweeping new powers to Prime Minister Victor Orban to tackle the pandemic, with critics decrying the lack of a sunset date on the powers.

Working from home not so easy 

Just east of Turkey, in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, Vazgen Karapetyan has been working from home for almost a month now.

“The entire country is on an emergency and quarantine,” he said.

“Borders are closed for ordinary citizens. Only cargo can go out and get in through closed borders,” added the 50-year-old international development specialist.

For Karapetyan working from home turned out not to be very easy.

“The biggest difficulty is the surprisingly increased volume of work, and the actual non-stop mode of it,” he explained.

The coexistence of work and home in the digital age “makes you more vulnerable to instant messaging ‘intrusion’ from different sides, which distracts attention and takes a lot of time,” he said, citing messages from “colleagues, friends, kid’s teachers” all begging for a reply.

Another difficulty that parents with school-age children face is helping your children deal with online learning, he added.

According to Karapetyan, the Armenian government’s quarantine is not strict enough. “You can still see a lot of people and cars on the streets.”

“This, of course, will result in a prolonged quarantine, with more substantial negative economic consequences for the country,” he warned.

“At the same time, the government is absolutely open and transparent,” he said, adding: “Information on coronavirus spreads in Armenia, and [it] takes necessary preventive measures to cope with the danger.”

Back in Australia, Priestley remains optimistic, saying: “We are in this together and we will come through this together.”

Drawing on the epic 1915 Battle of Gallipoli, which saw tens of thousands of Turkish, Australian, and New Zealand soldiers die in one of the most ferocious battles of World War I, Priestly added: “As Australia and Turkey’s shared history has taught us, the very toughest of times are when we show our best.” 

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