Vox Pop: Reactions to Coronavirus From Around the World

Amba Guerguerian Mar 23, 2020

Here’s how people young and old are learning to live with COVID-19 and the global disruption it has caused.

Nausica Rotolo, 21, Rome & Strasbourg

I’ve been living in Italy since 2017, I built a whole life there and watched it all fall apart in what seemed like one single moment. 

When I heard Italy was going to be on lockdown and no one would be allowed in or out, I thought about my family in the states and how all I wanted was to be with them right now. I waited in the Fiumicino airport in Rome all night, watching as every single flight was canceled one by one. The airport was full of anxious families in a panic slowly accepting that they will be stuck in Italy for the foreseeable future due to Covid-19. 

My flight to Amsterdam was the only flight that was not canceled and I made it out of Rome only to eventually be on total lockdown in Strasbourg, France with my boyfriend and his mother. 

No one can outrun this and there is no use trying. In Strasbourg, the streets are empty, the military and police are strolling around enforcing the new set of rules in an effort to mitigate the spread of the disease. I have not left the house in five days. The stores are still stocked and are being stocked, although we already had a cupboard of food so we are good and one of us will be going to the store today. 

If you need food or medicine or a doctor, you are allowed to go but have to fill out an official form. If your reason for leaving the house is not deemed valid then there is a €100 fine. There are police officers everywhere outside checking papers, and if you don’t look like you are doing what you are supposed to or if you don’t have the form at all, then you get a fine.

I never imagined that I and everybody I love would live through an experience such as this. We are disconnected from the people we miss and love the most, wondering if the worst will happen to someone we know. I worry also about myself because I am at high risk due to health complications. I worry about my loved ones in America the most as their political systems are built to divide and to eventually fail in times like this. 

In America, many will be denied treatments and testing because of lack of money and healthcare. I fear the systemic damage that will further destroy communities that already try so hard to just stay on their feet. My hope is that this is a wake-up call for the political system in America, exposing its flaws, corruption and greed. I hope even in this time of social distancing communities will unite in other ways to support each other in this new reality. 

In the end, we must all hold on to tenderness, compassion and selflessness because we are all hanging on to the edge of the same cliff. 

Claire Guerguerian, 52, Sainte Julie, Québec

It took our government a little while, like two weeks, before they decided to close the border crossings. People in general panicked and took all the stock off the store shelves like toilet paper and the essentials. For people like me who just wanted to get essential things, there was nothing left. That is a sign of people not standing together. It’s pathetic and heartless. People should bind together and survive together. 

‘No one can outrun this and there is no use trying.’

Also, I have breast cancer so I have to be very careful and need to protect myself, as my immune system is not as everyone else’s. I need to visit the hospital often for my treatments. The Québec Premier François Legault has done and is doing an excellent job. I’m trying to stay healthy. But for people that only think about themselves, it’s gonna be difficult.

Robbie Soumako, 65, Vancouver, BC/Costa Rica

I’m in Northwest Costa Rica. It’s turning into a ghost town with very few tourists. I think my flight on March 27th is canceled. I haven’t heard back from WestJet. I can’t reach them. I spoke with Americans today. Sunday morning is the last flight to the United States until May 10. Guess I will be staying in Costa Rica for another 6 weeks. It’s like my country forgot about the Canadians outside of the country.

Shaylea Sams, 24, Asheville, NC

Half of me wants to say forget this virus. It’s a scam, something man-made that the government is trying to control the population with. But then I feel a little ignorant . The other half of me wants go back to the way I grew up with my grams and start repenting because the Bible is pretty convincing right now. But I think that book’s a scam too.

This shit is confusing the fuck outta me. If anything happens to me and I end up with this virus, I don’t want any doctor trying to heal me. I don’t want to become a zombie or a guinea pig or have a chip secretly put inside of me. Let me cure naturally. If it’s my time to go, it’s my time to go. I wish I wasn’t so confused and wishy-washy with my belief in Jehovah and the Bible and the world, but I’m confused for real.

Brendan Yap, 20, Singapore

The previous instance of an international spread of respiratory virus we dealt with was the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in early-2003, of which I have little recollection of. I was still a child who could barely even walk back then. But know the severity of it through old newspaper clippings and general education on the virus. This prior run-in with a respiratory virus proved valuable in preparing us for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Once the pandemic was publicized, the government rolled out the necessary preparatory measures to deal with the COVID-19 coronavirus. Like other countries, the Singapore government set up screenings at airports to detect and isolate potential carriers of the virus, and immediately enforced the 14-day quarantine period for travelers returning from China. As the countries reporting COVID-19 patients gradually increased in number, Singapore began implementing travel restrictions for its citizens and bans on people coming into the country.

Naturally, the people’s response to this pandemic, which had the potential to replicate the severe levels of danger as presented by the 2003 SARS outbreak, was to stockpile necessities, such as canned food, toiletries and hand sanitizers. This became worrying as grocery stores were wiped of goods almost instantly and the people who did not react in time were left to fend for themselves. Fortunately, this incessant stockpiling slowed down when the government reminded us of the sustainable National Stockpiles, which the entire population could fall back upon for months.

On another note, educational institutions, businesses and malls adopted and implemented appropriate measures as highlighted by the government to curb the spread of COVID-19, which included shortened working hours, mandatory stay-in periods — all that fun stuff. These places did not permanently close, however.

The health ministry’s effective and efficient contact tracing efforts, the detection of potential coronavirus clusters, as well as the prompt disinfection of affected areas, allowed business to go on as usual, hence minimizing the impact on the economy. In fact, the army was also mobilized to provide masks to every household in Singapore, and social distancing has been deployed in cinemas.

The one thing people may be thinking about Singapore, and the small number of cases we currently have as compared to other countries, is that it may be attributed to the fact that we are a small country, just a little dot on the map. To that I say, we are just as afraid, but we have learned from our past and implemented the necessary measures to deal with future outbreaks of this scale. Hence, after reading up on the situations in other countries, this has made me extremely appreciative of the government, our health officials and medical staff for placing citizens’ interests before their own and for the efforts they have put into controlling the spread of this pandemic.

The preventative measures swiftly put in place, alongside the cooperation of the people, have led to the reduction in the spread of COVID-19. Thanks to that, people here are living relatively normal lives, frequenting malls, going to school and having fun on the weekends, albeit with face masks, of course!

Néhémie, 23, Marseille, France

The atmosphere in France is super anxious. Already before the coronavirus, there was a violent atmosphere, one of hate. And now, suddenly, it’s a whole new thing. Everything is changing from day to day. For example, the right to an abortion is compromised right now, because some police won’t consider buying a pregnancy test as an errand of foremost necessity. 

We’ve entered a period of suspicion. People’s opinions are really wavering. I’m very sad for my country. I don’t think we took this illness seriously at first because in France we always think we’re on top of everything. 

Everything has happened really fast. 

Ghadi Alsharif, 24, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

To be honest, I’ve never been that proud to be Saudi. It’s not something I shout out or anything. It’s just a name on paper, you know? But this is the very first time I feel proud about the Saudi government, because they have shown such a huge support. For example, they donated approximately $10 million to support small and local businesses during this crisis, which is huge. 

One of my jobs is at a small art studio, so that move has been helpful for me. Food shortages and panic shopping, which seem to be occurring all over the world, are not happening here at all. I go to supermarkets, minimarkets, everywhere, and can find everything. No panic shopping, no crowds. Plus, there are huge campaigns to encourage people to stay home. From social media influencers to actors, even the king himself spoke about it on TV. In the streets, people are giving away free hand sanitizer. 

Restaurants and cafés aren’t completely shut-down. They’re open for take-out. I’ve been working remotely since the 15th of this month, and the government ordered private and governmental sectors to pay every employee a mandatory sick leave for 14 days. So yeah, honestly, it’s very calm here. No panicking. 

All of my family and friends are aware and staying at home. No social gatherings have been happening. An hour every day, I do a video chat with all the family, so that we can stay in touch. 

Taqwa, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Sometimes, when I take a break to walk around my neighborhood, I feel like it’s really peaceful and quiet. The Earth itself never had this break from people and cars. I feel like Earth is, for the first time, peaceful. This is maybe the only benefit that happened with the virus. It doesn’t feel scary in Saudi Arabia. I never expected this reaction, especially from the Ministry of Health. It’s impressive for me. 

I never thought that people would agree to stop their cultural habits, especially like going to the mosque and greeting each other with kisses and handshakes. If you don’t say hello to even a stranger, it’s culturally shocking and outrageous. People now are greeting each other from a distance. It’s impressive that people are considering each other’s health. Maybe it’s going to get worse, maybe it’s spreading without us knowing, but I feel that everything is under control. For the first time, I feel like people in Saudi Arabia are caring for each other.


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