Members' Stories of Lockdown - Overseas
THE VOICES OF LOCKDOWN - Somerset West, South Africa
The South African government initiated one of the harshest lockdowns in the world and we are still there. Many voices and opinions were coming at us! Whose voice is right?
VOICES OF THE GOVERNMENT
The ANC claimed 350,000 virus deaths would occur in South Africa. Severe restrictions were launched but they did not really change our lives. One of the blessings this Lockdown brought was that our church, through a feeding scheme, were able to reach out to many hungry and lonely people and I got quite good at making large quantities of soup and sewing face masks!
VOICES OF REASON
Our son Peter is an actuary in the life insurance business. In May 2020 he, along with other skilled professionals under the PANDA umbrella, wrote a letter to the President of South Africa entitled “Lockdown is a Humanitarian Disaster” (see www.pandata.org.za) pointing out that the collapse of the economy will cause severe poverty, hardship and starvation. The model they produced has so far been accurate – it forecasts deaths in South Africa would range between 10,000 – 20,000 (we currently sit on 13,500).
VOICES OF CHILDREN
Because schools were closed, my son asked me to help with “home schooling” their three young children while his wife cared for their two-week-old baby. I loved this stage when the children were brought, one at a time, to “Granny School”!!
View from our lounge window in Somerset West
VOICES OF HUNGER
Perhaps it was the voice of hunger that caused my husband to be brutally attacked by two knife-wielding men a few weeks ago. He was beaten, left on the side of the road unconscious and all valuables stolen. He spent the night in hospital and is recovering fast but the trauma lingers on. However, it is through this incident that we hear the Voice of God in extraordinary kind and compassionate messages from friends and family across the world.
Liz Castleden (née Pittendrigh)
1965-1970, Bunwell House
Guild International Rep South Africa
AYUTTHAYA AND COVID-19
In the middle of Siamese rice basin, Ayutthaya the old capital of Siam fares relatively well in the midst of distressing Covid-19 woes. The Thailand case appears to buck the worldwide trend as reported in the media. The virus seems to dislike the heat from the strong sunshine and the humidity from the heavy rain here. The number of cases as of 26 August 2020, is 4 for Ayutthaya and 3,402 for Thailand. Nationwide our mortality rate due to Covid is 1.7%.
The threat to peoples lives and livelihoods appears to come not from Covid19 itself but from the lockdown policy adopted by the government in the wake of the rise of Covid19 in other countries. Thailand’s main source of income is from international tourism. So, the shutdown of the world economy has had a devastating effect on our country. Last year the hospitality sector amounts to 21% of GDP. Hotels suffer the most. Numerous hotels in Bangkok, Phuket, Samui and Chiangmai have closed down. Airlines have gone bust. In Thailand unemployment is soaring; the figure is estimated at 7-8 million of our workforces are unemployed and the numbers are rising. The lockdown policy and quarantine measures have directly contributed to the vulnerability of the population more than the disease itself. Lack of income are taking a heavy toll of people’s lives and health. The “medicine” prescribed by the government to deal with Covid19 is proving to be as lethal than the disease itself.
The Thai trying to make the most of a bad situation by turning to domestic tourism to make up for the loss of international tourists. We are grateful to our local friends for their kind support to help bring life back to our small 13-room boutique hotel. Despite the iron law: “If something can go wrong it would!” The spirits have kindly protected our little venture in Ayutthaya and blessed us all with a relatively good occupancy.
We wish good health to our overseas friends and once the quarantine measures are relaxed please remember to visit us. www.iudia.com
Guild International Rep Thailand
GEELONG, VICTORIA, AUSTRALIA
I am fortunate that Brian and I live in a dependent person’s unit on our daughter and son in law’s property. This is in Victoria near Geelong.
We are able to see them almost every day, and our granddaughter and grandson who both are living at home just now. Every Sunday we go to the Big House - which is what we call where my daughter and family live, for dinner with the family where we able to “Social Distance” as required.
Brian and I can go for walks around this area providing we are wearing masks and so are not confined to a small area. All in all, we are very fortunate and thank our lucky stars.
We keep our brains busy with crosswords from the daily paper and always have a jigsaw out to challenge us too. We are also enjoying reading again and have several books to keep us amused.
We have 2 raised garden beds where we grow seasonal vegetables for us and the Big House. This is ideal for us oldies as we don’t have to bend and can enjoy being out there when the weather allows. We also have a wonderful orchard of citrus and other fruit trees and a huge back garden full of trees and flowers.
We have had an unusual amount of rain this year so our rain water tanks beside the house are full to overflowing and so we will not be short of water as summer lies ahead.
We are very grateful to not be living in Melbourne where they are in state 4 lockdown. This means that they are restricted to a 5 km radius and have a curfew of 8pm to 5am. They are only allowed out to exercise for an hour each day and only one person in the household can do the shopping. We are very lucky that we just fall outside the Melbourne region.
Anne Faithfull (née McLauglin)
Guild International Rep Australia
NOTE: Very sadly Anne's husband Brian died on 23rd September but she wanted us to go ahead and publish her article.
GERMANY IN 2020
First, there was no more loo roll in the supermarket. Then, school was cancelled. ’Hamsterkäufe’, ‘Abstand’ and ‘Maskenpflicht’ became essential vocabulary as things snowballed.
We live by the Church in a market town, with Kindergarten, Scouts, Choir and so on buzzing around us daily. But in March, a post-apocalyptic silence descended, broken only by the squeaking of our guinea pigs and the trampoline. Easter was cancelled. Neighbours and friends existed only in the abstract of mobile phones. Making plans to fly to the UK became a wild and crazy thought.
As a teacher, I found comfort in writing out timetables for my girls, trying to create a semblance of structure during homeschooling. Schools in Germany are not so enthralled with technology as their UK counterparts, and therefore using the newly established I-Serve was at first challenging for all concerned.
The fabulous ‘Corona weather’ made things bearable, but the girls were impatient for new activity and friends towards the end. Photographic work and my English classes were impossible. Other self-employed friends were struggling. But unlike our European neighbours, we could at least travel freely to the supermarket without an official note, and enjoy walking in the German Wald as much as before. There was a sense that it was boring, but under control. By the end of June, both daughters returned to half-time school with classes restricted to half-size.
Yes, we did make it to the UK by ferry to visit family in August, and the children are now back in school full-time, with distancing and masks in the corridors. We can even plan a birthday party in October. But we are all left with the uncomfortable feeling that life is still only half full, that this is only the end of the beginning. Especially as the UK faces the prospect of a new lockdown. We can look ahead, but only to see the global effects of famine and hunger for millions paving the road.
Charlotte Hartwell (née Allison)
Guild International Rep Germany
LOCKDOWN IN ARIZONA AND TORONTO
I straddle two countries. Two countries that have dealt with the pandemic in completely different ways. When the pandemic began to take shape, I was happily ensconced in Arizona. My kids live there. My mom lives there. I reside in Toronto half the year, escaping the long, cold Canadian winters.
My daughter and son-in-law contracted Covid-19 early on, after a trip to NYC - two days before the city was officially closed. They required my help. My mom lives alone, but was always connected to her friends and her routine. In an instant her routine was taken away. She was lonesome and sad. She required my help. My son and daughter-in-law were expecting their first baby in April. Their jobs were immediately paused. They required my help.
My husband and I didn’t feel the need to rush back when it was announced that the borders between the US and Canada were closing in mid-March. As dual passport holders, we knew we could return anytime. We also understood, after Zooming with Canadian friends, that the rules in Canada were immediate and very strict. This was foreign to us.
When the pandemic was actually acknowledged in the US, there was no federal plan. No direction. Mixed messages. And when there was direction, it wasn't clear. And when a large spotlight shone on the White House, the responsibility was tossed to the 50 individual states, like a live hand-grenade.
Many businesses and activities in Arizona were ordered closed in March, under the governor’s Stay-At-Home order. “Stay at home” was a strange phrase to use, with so much left open. My husband and I didn’t notice a dramatic change when life became different for us all. It was simpler. We were seeing fewer friends, but we saw friends – like minded individuals who took similar precautions. We joined friends for dinner outside on their patio. Friends joined us for lunch on ours. We’d meet friends on the tennis court and bang our racquets together after a congratulatory match. We would pick up take-out food from restaurants. There were more golf carts on the local courses than cars on the road. There were even less planes in the sky. The stars shone brighter at night. The outlines of the mountains were crisper by day. Essential services were open. Grocery stores, drug stores, banks, garden centers, hardware stores, do-it-yourself stores remained open. Any store that sold food was open - this included the local 99 Cents Only Store and behemoths including, Target and Walmart. Even the dry cleaners stayed open.
Essential? I'm not so sure. We didn’t go without. We just went out with a purpose. We carried wipes and hand sanitizer and wore masks in public. As the days folded into one another, fewer people cared. Fewer masks were worn.
Arizona Covid-19 numbers were satisfactory in early May. The trend was going down. The closures that had been in place for eight weeks were working. But, President Trump came calling on May 5th. And on May 6th Arizona’s Republican governor lifted his own Stay-At-Home order. Early. He opened everything up. Clubs, gyms, bars, beauty shops, restaurants. It didn’t take long before Arizona made global news for all the wrong reasons - a national hot spot with a huge surge of virus cases and deaths. And when the governor had to clamp down again, there was outrage.
People didn’t want to be told to wear masks. They didn’t want to be told to close up their businesses again. There was fury. Not all Americans take kindly to rules. We left Arizona in mid-June. What a stark contrast to our arrival in Toronto. Once off the plane we were in quarantine for two weeks. We had to stay within our space - we were lucky to have a back garden for fresh air. Friends dropped off groceries. We were followed by Public Health and the Provincial government - calls, emails, voice mails. They meant business. There is no quarantine in the US.
Our quarantine ended on July 4th, just as Ontario’s Phase Two was taking effect. Phase One was nearly a complete lockdown of the province. You could get groceries and your prescriptions, but not much more. Neighbors didn’t see one another. Relatives didn’t see one another.
Strict, vigilant and well thought out rules are embraced by all. Masks are not debated, they are worn. Everywhere. If you are walking outside, Canadians give you a wide berth, to be on the safe side. Everyone follows the arrows up and down the aisles in grocery stores. You have your doctor appointments on the phone. Covid-19 tests are easy to find and seemingly accurate. Not so in the US. When we started playing tennis at our tennis club, each player used their own balls. I got skilful at balancing a lost ball on my racquet without touching it, as I threw it to a court nearby. You weren’t allowed to sit down on the benches - I invested in my own stool. You’d line up to enter the gates, socially distancing. When you completed your 45-minute time slot you followed the arrows out. Restaurant patios are open, indoor dining is not. Bars are still closed. You can book a time slot for lane swimming at the public outdoor pools. Everything is pre-booked online. The traffic on the roads is still lighter. More and more people are ditching Toronto’s city life and buying cottages up north. Suburbs are gaining in popularity. The real estate market is booming, even with virtual showings.
We have seen very few of our Canadian friends since getting home. They are happy to live in their very small “bubbles”. They are still scared. They are nervous. The fear of the unknown is always daunting. But they are in this pandemic together. They exude the "all for one" mentality and the numbers of people who have died from this virus is a true testament to their gathering as one nation. Canadians are rule followers. They rarely buck the system. In times like this, we appreciate it.
Nancy Tobin (née Simpson)
1977-1978, St Hilda’s
Guild International Rep Canada
SOUTH AFRICA 2020: Coronavirus lockdown in Johannesburg, Gauteng
The arrival of the Coronavirus Covid19 pandemic of 2020 in South Africa heralded a national lockdown, described as the strictest in the World and which began on March 31. This was forecast for three weeks and included prohibition of the sale of alcohol and tobacco. Only 24 hours’ notice was given to stock up on supplies of all goods. At first the reaction was temperate as people, still somewhat shocked and bewildered at being blindsided by this apparent pandemic, simply accepted the lockdown as necessary. After three weeks the lockdown was extended by a further two. It subsequently continued with many previous bans remaining in place and with additions including curfews and the bizarre restriction of the sale of certain clothing items and shoes.
The fluctuating lockdown announcements over the next few months dealt multiple blows to every aspect of life in Gauteng and a palpable sense of mutinous opposition began to be felt. Families often crowded together in small spaces, especially in rural areas, felt increasingly claustrophobic and frustrated. The business world became hostile as closed doors were forbidden to reopen leaving staff with little or no income. The ban on tobacco, which the President announced would be raised on April 23, was contradicted by another Minister (pictured below) within days and sales remained forbidden. The alcohol ban was raised on 01 June and then reinstated on July 12. These latter confusing, differing instructions increasingly threatened wine growers and the tobacco industry with extinction.
The Coronavirus pandemic gave rise to another meanwhile: the corruption pandemic. Funds, national and international, contributed to assist hospitals and healthcare officials, were discovered to have been embezzled. Government tenders for PPE equipment were allegedly awarded to companies and individuals on the basis of nepotism and who provided substandard equipment. The WHO rightfully described the latter as “murder”.
Five months later
The new present, transitioning its way into the so-called new normal and punctuated by the return of endless, lengthy power cuts does not auger well for the future so far. Covid19 continues its deadly dance across the Province and is unlikely to desist unless and until a successful vaccine is developed. As the economy reemerges from the lockdown stages, the effect on health care, schools, large/small businesses and tourism shows devastation.
Hard working health care providers sometimes tragically succumbed to the virus thus undermining hospital care. As a result, patients often prefer to remain privately isolated rather than join queues to seek medical advice - with the added possibility that they might return home with more complaints than they had when they set out.
Myriad parents have unsurprisingly resisted the reopening of schools, which has progressed in haphazard stages; the poorer suburbs and rural areas were structurally and hygienically unsound before Covid19, let alone during and at present. There is also a general shortage of teachers to control new necessary health restrictions.
Large businesses took little interest in pushing back at the length of the lockdown stages, in spite of the fact that this country’s economy had already been relegated to Junk status prior to the onset of the virus and was to become listed as the third most miserable economy in the world subsequently. In reopening they are now faced with how to deal with staff who survived retrenchment and salary cuts, under the restrictions of social distancing and use of PPEs.
Shops and small businesses have been decimated. The sight of so many closed and barred establishments, which looked eerie during earlier stages of the lockdown, now look desolate. While some shopkeepers survived the Draconian lockdown measures by trading in illicit alcohol and tobacco behind closed doors and at exorbitant Black Market prices, many will never open again.
Tourism, one of the cornerstones of the economy, is recovering slowly. Interprovincial travel is now allowed; however international borders remain closed. Hotels, restaurants and bars are opening their doors, however it is only recently that the sale of tobacco and alcohol has been allowed again with the warning that this could be a temporary measure anyway. In the hospitality industry food and drinks may only be served within certain hours which absurdly suggests that patrons should finish dinner by 21h00 in order to accommodate the 22h00 continuing nightly curfew. Should international tourism ever resume, travel agents may be obliged to design their itineraries with care and consider the invidious possibility of having to add a warning, or somesuch equivalent to their agendas: “Short sleeved shirts, open toed shoes, alcohol and tobacco may not be available for sale at minimum notice and by Government order. Power outages of indeterminate length and at undefined times are to be frequently expected throughout the Province.”
So what now Gauteng, South Africa?
Gaby Phillips (née Cowan)
1962-1965, Farnley Lodge
Guild International Rep South Africa
100 DAYS… IN THE TIME OF COVID-19 - Reflections from a Geriatrician
It is heart-wrenching for me, a doctor who specialises in care of older people, to read in the news about the nursing home outbreaks and deaths due to Covid-19 in Europe and the USA. Why hasn’t the rest of the world learned from the Severe Adult Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic in 2003? Hong Kong lives with the haunting memory of a mysterious virus that infected 1755 persons and killed 298 citizens (17% mortality rate). Six healthcare workers perished in their line of duty. Notably, the death rate was up to 80% for care home residents. Whether it was directly attributable to the infection, or a consequence of the isolation policy in hospitals and the resulting neglect, it was a painful experience that we never wished to re-visit. In 2004, the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) was established in Hong Kong. In the following 16 years, to me as a geriatrician looking after care homes, CHP was a ‘bête noire’, fussing over outbreaks of any kind or size, like seasonal flu, Norovirus (a highly contagious virus associated with diarrhoea and vomiting) and any other seemingly mundane ‘outbreaks’ involving more than three residents in a care home. Little did we realise, the obsessive behaviour of the CHP prepared us for the next nightmare – Covid-19.
I am so proud that Hong Kong, a densely populated metropolis of 7.5 million, has recorded zero occupational-acquired infections among healthcare workers and the care home population – a global number one. The solution is simple – Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) saves lives. We had our PPE scare in February, when the six-month stockpile in the public healthcare system was exhausted within a few weeks. Stocktake of PPE usage and reserves became a daily preoccupation for healthcare managers. For those who worked in non-critical hospital departments which did not deal with Covid-19 patients, we switched overnight to cloth surgical gowns supplemented by protective gear sourced from local stores and online, thanks to the innovation of ward sisters and the support of frontline workers. This allowed the very limited numbers of high grade PPE to be re-distributed to healthcare workers caring for Covid-19 patients.
As a clinical leader, I am responsible for protecting my team and patients. Making sure we have adequate and appropriate PPE, minimising high risk aerosol generating procedures (AGPs) such as high flow oxygen, chest physiotherapy and sputum suction. Very few of our younger healthcare workers have experienced SARS. Yet they defend our healthcare system by toeing the line. Perhaps the Asian trait of being obedient to seniors is saving lives. We encourage colleagues to look out for each other, speak up when they sense something is not quite right and keeping everyone’s spirits up. In recent weeks, after marathon ward rounds, I shared clips of Queen Elizabeth’s speech as a teenager reaching out to the children of WW2, and the amazing story of Captain Tom Moore who managed to raise £30 million for the NHS, reach number 1 in the charts and be promoted to Colonel before becoming a centenarian.
Telemedicine is something dear to my heart, as someone who pioneered its application at the turn of the century, and especially during the SARS epidemic. It took off again in leaps and bounds during Covid-19. As hospitals and nursing homes lock down and turn away visitors, videoconference calls have kept families in touch with their loved ones. Nervous patients welcomed virtual clinics visits and tele-rehabilitation took our therapists right into patients’ homes. Telemedicine is here to stay, even after we recover from the pandemic.
Over the past four months, the evidence to support mask-wearing is overwhelming. A simple surgical mask saves lives – in hospitals, nursing homes, public transport, lifts and workplaces. Hong Kong has managed without a complete lockdown. Schools are closed and civil servants are working from home, but the metro is still running and the city is still operating, albeit at a fraction of its normal capacity. All local outbreaks are traceable to behaviour that involved mass gatherings with removal of face masks. These included a Chinese New Year hotpot dinner that struck down 20 family members, a group of youngsters on a night out at a karaoke lounge, and a travelling band that visited a chain of bars in our infamous Soho district, infecting scores of staff and customers. Who would have imagined that eating and singing was dangerous? The government imposed laws limiting diners to four in restaurants and closed down karaokes and bars some weeks ago. As we have had zero locally contracted Covid-19 cases for 14 consecutive days, Hong Kong is opening up again, albeit by phases. As China recovers from Covid-19 and factories re-open, production lines are shifted to manufacturing PPE and household cleansing products. The price of face masks has stabilised, and NGOs and volunteers distribute masks to those less privileged, living in crowded sub-divided flats or sleeping rough.
As we look up at the incredible blue skies during lockdown, it is apparent that planet earth is recovering from the abuse from our modern day lifestyle of indulgence and excess. As children, we travelled to faraway lands only via television programmes and owned a few pieces of much loved clothing. I owned two pairs of shoes, for going to school, physical education (PE) and all other occasions. Following Covid-19, economies will have to readjust from being consumer-driven to info-technology-oriented. Is it really that glamorous to fly to exotic places for a meeting, spending only a few hours on the ground, when you can conduct your business in the comfort of your own home, with or without your trousers on? Seriously, in the health and elder care sector, we have always struggled to recruit workers. Perhaps those who have lost their jobs could consider a new career in the caring industry, break the vicious cycle of under-staffing and turn these very meaningful jobs into professions that draw in the best people.
Last but not least, I face one of the greatest emotional challenges as my daughter is in self-isolation all by herself in London. She chose to remain in the UK and to work from her flat, rather than being bailed out to Hong Kong like the tens of thousands of students who flocked back in March. For that I have the greatest respect for her, and enjoy seeing her posts and our brief daily chats on social media. She has asked not to be named, but for those who know the connection, please wish her safety, health and good spirits. For Hong Kong, the dawn has almost arrived. Remember, face masks and good personal hygiene are not rocket science. And may the world become a kinder and greener place as we emerge at the end of this dark tunnel.
Dr Elsie Hui, BSc, MB BS (London), MSc (CUHK), MRCP (UK), FHKAM, FRCP (Edin)
- Johns Hopkins Covid 19 dashboard. https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html
- Ho WW, Hui E, Kwok TC, Woo J, Leung NW. An outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in a nursing home. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 2003; 51: 1504–1512.
- Hui E and Woo J. Telehealth for older patients: the Hong Kong experience. Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare, 2002; 8 (suppl. 3): S3:39-41.
- Lai JCK, Woo J, Hui E, Chan WM. Telerehabilitation – a new model for community-based stroke rehabilitation. Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare, 2004; 10: 199-205.
Sunday Times, Letters to the Editor: How we beat the virus in Hong Kong (Sunday 10th May) https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/comment/letters-to-the-editor-how-we-beat-the-virus-in-hong-kong-lmnsfzf38
Elsie (centre) and her team at the end of a ward round – May 2020
ENDURING THE QUARANTINE IN MILAN - 25th March 2020
Up to a month ago, Milan was the coolest, most affluent and brilliant city in the whole of Italy. The city where people want to go (study-work-shop-live ), the capital of fashion and design, of smart living…
Today it’s the world capital of Corona Virus, the region where 30,000 cases are recorded and where 3,000 casualties are counted as of today. And it is implied by scientists that we should consider the real number of cases as tenfold.
The Italian National Health Service is one of the best in Europe, as far as medicine, healthcare and welfare are concerned; Milan is the excellence of it all. Still, with such a rapid upsurge of cases to be treated, the system is barely holding up. Doctors, nurses, hospitals are doing miracles, new emergency hospitals are being built up at Chinese rhythms, but it is really hard to cope. The top priority is to reduce the daily increase in the number of cases, i.e. hospital beds, in order to give a break to the whole healthcare structure.
The best we, citizen of Milan, can – and must- do, at individual level, is to stay locked down at home and to strictly respect the tight safety measures which have been adopted, and tightened every few days. I must acknowledge and underline that the Milanese population is being very good about it; there is hardly any traffic (the improvement in air pollution quality is amazing), hardly anybody walking down the streets. A ghost town. You can’t go out unless to walk your dog, buy groceries or go to the chemist shop: and all this must take place in an area maximum 200 meters from your own home. All shops, restaurants and coffee shops are closed. No walks in city parks, no jogging, no strolling... while spring is blooming.
We live in a flat in the very core of Milan center. We don’t go to see our children and grand-children, who are all locked down in their respective homes: they are working on line, getting school lessons by Skype, doodling around ... And since we all live in flats in the urban area, we have no private gardens for the children to play. I am lucky to have a big terrace on the 7th floor, with a view of the city roofs, of church spires and of the back of the Milan Duomo.
But we are all well so far, and this is what counts.
Marina Manfredi Magillo (née Magillo)
1964-1965, St Austin’s