From Asia to Europe, expats share their lockdown/social distancing experiences

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If you are South African and someone just sends you a number – with no context – you already know what it is about.

There are now 709 confirmed cases in South Africa.

And there are still two days ahead of us of people going out, stocking up, going back home and seeing friends one last time before lockdown starts.


If you are still not taking this seriously, or if you are planning on having a lockdown braai on Thursday (for f*ck’s sake South Africans, are you serious?), you are part of the problem. And washing your hands is not the cure for stupidity. 

About 2.6 billion people are currently in lockdown (or going into lockdown soon). And while some countries in Asia have the virus relatively under control due to their experience with the SARS outbreak a few years ago, the situation is rife in more developed countries.

From Asia to Europe, expats share their lockdown and social distancing experiences. 

Have a read.

Simon Lewis – Spain

Confirmed cases: 42,058

Over 600 people already dead in Spain and 1000s more sick, numbers increasing every day! (Edit: There are now 2991 deaths in Spain).

We have been locked down since Saturday for a min of 15 days & everything is closed!

We are only allowed out on the streets to buy food from supermarkets or go to pharmacies as they are the only places allowed to be open! If you are on the streets for other reasons you have to declare them and face a fine or jail! Riding a bike is even illegal and the police are on the streets everywhere.

When you do go to shops or pharmacies you have to wear a mask and sanitise your hands before being let in one person at a time! Supermarkets are empty and next week if the numbers don’t go down we are expecting army on the streets.

People are expecting this to last for weeks but nobody knows. The people in Barcelona seem to be showing solidarity and staying at home and the streets are empty so the lockdown is working.

Every evening at 8pm people open windows or stand on balconies and applaud for 10 minutes in support of nurses and the emergency services that are overloaded and can’t cope!

We can’t even get tested anymore!

I am used to working from home but I am making an effort to call friend around the world and do daily exercise of walking the 4 floors in my apartment block.

Martene Metayer – Taiwan

Confirmed cases: 216

On January 24, 2020, I boarded a flight from Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam to Taipei, Taiwan. At the airport, I was met with people wearing surgical mask because it was the start of the outbreak. Since I was so close to China (and the bad air quality in Vietnam), I preceded to wear a surgical mask. When landing into Taipei, I was greeted with tons of masked faces. Those who didn’t wear a surgical mask were given looks of detest. Taiwan took preventive measure as soon as the Wuhan outbreak was announced because they still had recollections of the 2002-2004 SARS outbreak which also originated in China. Even news outlets all around the world have been praising Taiwan because of their early preventive measures. However, the number of cases have been increasing recently and people are now starting to prepare while living normal lives.

I say normal life because here in Taiwan we are not on lockdown, quarantine nor a curfew. People are out playing basketball, enjoying a meal at a restaurant and even meeting up with friends. Life is normal with the exception of wearing masks and constantly washing of the hands. Schools are open and I am still working as an ESL teacher. When teaching, it is mandatory that the teacher and student alike wear a surgical mask and sanitise their hands upon entering the school. Since the cases of the coronavirus has been on the rise, the Taiwanese are slowly preparing themselves by buying extra supplies at the grocery store. There is a ration when it comes to buying surgical masks at the pharmacy, the day you can purchase surgical masks depends on the Alien Resident Card number so there are constantly long lines. Luckily for me, my school provides surgical masks since it is a requirement for teachers to teach.

The coronavirus has effected everyone worldwide and I am no exception. It is scary to be far away from home during this time and to be facing this alone. Nonetheless, it is even more risky to travel right now so for the time being I am staying put. I wish everyone out there to be safe during these trying time.

Click here to watch Martene’s video on the coronavirus.

The Timeless Voyagers – Germany

Confirmed cases: 32,991

We are currently in a town outside Munich (Bavaria, Germany). We arrived at the end of February. At this time, there were confirmed cases in Europe but the numbers were low and the hype was still heavily surrounding China. Moving to a new country always involves bureaucracy, and it feels like Germany is next level with it.

We made appointments at various government departments and we were able to attend them all. There were no virus precautions other than practice social distancing and work from home if possible. Social distancing was not taken seriously and even though there were closures of public buildings (like schools, universities, libraries, hairdressers, etc.), the youth were having ‘corona parties’; and if it was sunny, everyone and their dog was out getting ice cream. We had one last appointment on Friday – the most important one. The department closed and in the letter we received, we can only contact them to make a new appointment at the end of April. This appointment was related to Jordan’s visa so there is a lot of anxiety seeing how this all plays out.

So three weeks after arriving here, we are sitting in a province that has ‘locked down’. Currently, we can leave the house for grocery shopping – only one person from a household, pharmacy and doctor visits, quick walks outside of no more than two people (excl. parents with children), and nothing recreational is open. Restaurants are closed for indoor dining but you can order and collect. Toilet paper and sanitiser are scarce, with the presence of pasta and tinned food variable. A lot of these products now have buying limits on them. The cashiers wear gloves and protective plastic sheets/boards are hung above the tills to create a barrier. There are stores that are limiting the number of people allowed inside at a time. The government departments that were still open also restricted numbers and provided sanitiser at the door.

Otherwise, almost all sanitising is done on our own accord. We have been told that shops in SA are offering sanitiser at the door – not here. We wash our hands when we get back, wipe down our purse/wallet, wipe down phones, even wiping down the packaging of groceries we buy. Having just moved we are staying with Daniel’s grandparents so we may be ‘excessive’ with our cleaning but we aren’t taking any risks. We stay at home but do always take the privilege of a daily outdoors walk. The lockdown can become worse (Italy-level) so we are hoping that everyone takes the situation more seriously than before. All we can leave you with is: take the virus and its spread seriously but don’t create panic; stay at home but enjoy fresh air too; do not continue socialising at home with friends, family, church, or any community you are a part of but rather do it online; be conscious of what you share and listen to the advice given by medical professionals, and adhere to political rules.

Steven Bolhuis – Vietnam

Confirmed cases: 134

Working as a English Second Language teacher in Vietnam is a rewarding job, unfortunately all public schools as well as private language institutions have been forced to shut down due to the COVID-19 epidemic.

We are currently in our ninth week of no teaching as the virus broke out shortly before the Lunar New Year celebrations, Vietnamese Tết holiday, after only one day of being back at work in February, we were informed that schools would be closing, at first it was from week to week, but recently “until further notice”.

However, cost of living in Vietnam is very low, there have been no empty shelves in grocery stores or local markets, whilst there is major strain on local businesses and farmers not being able to export due to the borders between China and Vietnam being closed, the community stands together and helps those in need. Vietnam’s government has done a phenomenal job and securing its borders, containing outbreaks and hindering the spread of this virus. As an expatriate, I feel safe and live in complete peace of mind in Vietnam.

Sandhira Chetty – South Korea

Confirmed cases: 9, 137

As with most people in the entire world, the virus has caused my life to come to pretty much a standstill. I’m an ESL teacher in Korea and as I’m sure you’re aware, Korea has one of the highest number of confirmed cases out of all affected countries. Obviously, schools nationwide have been closed until April (until further notice). The school year in Korea was supposed to start on the 3rd of March, which means I haven’t been to work since then. I count myself very lucky as I have been granted paid leave, so I’ve been isolating myself at home.

In Korea, social-distancing is imperative. I don’t travel at all anymore. I haven’t left my town in weeks. I don’t go to restaurants at all – zero social activities. All public events have been cancelled in Korea anyway. I see friends, but never more than two friends at a time. I go to the shops, but only when I absolutely need to. I’ve taken my self-isolation very seriously simply because I see national safety as my own responsibility – as should every individual.

Click here to read the full interview with Sandhira Chetty.

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