it all started in Whuhan, China
On 23 January China locked down Wuhan a city of 11 million people where a virus called Covid-19 is thought to have originated from.
No travels were allowed in or out of the city, public transport was suspended and cars barred from the roads. Schools were closed, shops were shuts. People were only allowed to leave their homes to get essential supplies or seek medical help, and anyone who did go out was required to wear a mask.
Two weeks later, authorities were ordering house-to-house searches for potentially infected individuals, and forcing them into quarantine.
We were thinking that it was happening far from us and that it was only 'China's problem'.
We were watching the news not too concerned about it and only worrying about the economic impact it would have on our countries and businesses, but then.... the virus reached Italy, and it got so bad and out of control that on 8th March, Italy shuts down the northern region that was the most severely affected and two days later it extended the lockdown to the entire country.
At that point, I have started to worry big time.
gut instinct or paranoia?
Travel was still allowed in Europe though and it just didn't make any sense to me!
I believe that at that point all europeans flights should have been cancelled. But here in UK, life went on. No one seemed to get it! totally oblivious at the gravity of things.
We have been said that the main symptoms of this virus are a high temperature, and/or a continuous cough but there is still many things we still don't know about that virus... but for sure, it affects the lungs and others organs very badly very quickly.
Not long ago I contracted a severe pneumonia that got me almost hospitalised and it took me almost 6 months to fully recover from it. I have experienced how painful pneumonia is and how awful it is having your lungs uncapacited. That feeling of not being able to breath...
I was not willing to go there anymore and I knew that if was catching it, I probably wouldn't make it, as my lungs are already fragile and scarred.
So, yeah... the anxiety was at its highest. My survival instinct went on high alert! And I decided that at all cost, I would prioritise my health and safety.
The packed commute to work got me super nervous, and I when boarding the train I couldn't help looking around and wondering how many people in that carriage had been travelling and coming back from Italy.
How many of them could potentially be sick and not knowing it...
I live and work close to the busiest airports in London, the Heathrow and London city airport and for sure, everyday, I was crossing path with travellers coming from all parts of the world.
Some people were coughing and sneezing during my commute and I just could not take it!
To ease my anxieties and as a safety reflex, the moment I was stepping onto the train, I would pull my scarf up my nose and mouth and hold my breath for the next 45 min journey to work. I had of course to face the stares of other passengers who were probably judging me as a 'drama queen' or a 'paranoid freak'.
But as days went by, more and more people were starting doing the same.
I used to arrive at work all sweaty and stressed out but I did not have a choice! I still had to go to work.
Most of my colleagues were trying to appease my anxieties saying that it was just an outbreak of flu, that only old people were affected by it and that I had nothing to worry about.
So I was looking a little hysterical to most of them when I was saying that London was under imminent threat! and that the situation was worst than what the news were telling us.
At some point I started to shut up as one of my colleague was making fun of me every time I was bringing up the subject. She could not understand my fear and I don't really blame her, because she didn't know where I was coming from.
My gut instinct was telling me that things were going to become ugly very soon! and as I always trust my instincts, I started getting myself ready for the worst and take some measures.
I bought a couple of face masks online and made a massive grocery order to make sure I would not be without food when things would go south here in the UK.
I was also very worried about my old parents still living in Belgium and warned them to stay home and ask for help to get their groceries delivered, as things were obviously turning for the worst in Belgium and they had to get themselves ready.
my last day at the office
Thursday 12th March
Like every day of the week, after a hellish 45 commute to work in a packed train and some frenetic hands sanitising every 20 min, here I am at my desk, trying to concentrate and do what I am paid for.
You can hear some employees in the office coughing and sneezing, and every single time, I was trying to work out how far from me they are sitting and if they were contaminated, how fast would the germs reach me at some point. I know...crazy. But I could not help it!
I was also constantly receiving news notifications informing on the increase of news cases in the country and it was really becoming incredibly obvious to me that I should not have been at work right now and living my life as per usual.
My colleague, sitting only 1 meter from me, who had been strangely quiet all morning, suddenly got up and said to my director sitting in front of me: "I am not feeling well. I think I got fever. What should I do?"
OMG! at that point, I was about to faint. If he was contaminated, I was for sure!
My director told him to pack his things immediately and go home and to call 111 to talk about his symptoms.
I was about to have a panic attack, so I got up and went to the ladies to calm myself down, wash my hands properly and took a deep breath. When I returned to my desk, my boss looked at me with an understanding smile and told me that if I did not feel safe, I should go back home and work from home at least until the next Monday . So I thank my boss for his understanding and packed my stuff, say goodbye to my friend Noëlle who was working on another floor of the office, and rushed back home.
I have not returned to the office since then. That was it. My last day at the office...
Italy was warning us, but UK was not worried... and then it finally happened in France and Belgium
France went into lockdown on 17th and Belgium on the 18th March and people were barred from leaving home except to buy food or essentials and visit the doctor. They have to carry a special document, certifying why they are outside, to show to security forces. About 100,000 police officers have been deployed to enforce the lockdown, with checkpoints set up nationwide.
At that point, Boris advised people in UK to stay home if they could, and it is only one week later that the national lockdown officially hit us.
It is war time...UK is entering a public health war against an invisible and elusive enemy.
The instruction is:
"You must stay home and not go outside only to get food or medical help"
There can be no more outside meetings, no more seeing family or friends, even on the street or in the park.
All bars, restaurants and non-essential shops are shutting down. Creches, schools and universities are closing and all exams cancelled.
Supermarkets remain open but we are recommended to only do one trip a day, no more. You can go out to exercise but only one time a day.
To avoid work-related travel, employees are asked to work from home. And those who can't, are put on furlough, with their wages being paid by the government.
This is was so unprecedented, it gave me chills... It really felt like war time and the end of an era.
Everything shuts down and the world goes completely still and silent. Never in a millions years, I would have thought that 2020 would come to this...
I remember that in January, my only worries were about how to lose the extra weight, find myself a date, keeping up with my new resolutions and make new travel plans for the year.
I would never have imagined that two months later, my priorities would shift completely and I would have to struggle to get the very basic things, like food for example.
There is some panic buying all over the country and toilet rolls, pasta, flour, eggs, bread, and fresh milk are nowhere to be found.
Supermarkets are war zones! Shelves are empty and you have people fighting for the last pack of pasta or toilet roll. You can't order online either and you have to wait at least 4-6 weeks to get a slot for your next delivery.
It is just plain insanity!
I never thought in my life I would ever have to struggle finding food. Thanks God I trusted my instincts earlier this month and made that massive grocery order. So I think I will be able to cope with what I have got in my freezer and cupboards for at least the next couple of weeks.
I will definitely have to adjust my eating habits though and learn to bake bread! and find ways to get what I need once my fridge is getting empty...
I am also really worried about keeping my job and be able to carry on paying my rent. I can't imagine what would happen if I suddenly turn unemployed. This is unfortunately what is happening to millions of people right now. They are losing their jobs, their businesses, their lifehood, while the virus is taking away our friends, our colleagues, our families.
This is our worst nightmare becoming reality...
We used to watch this in movies and believing it was only fiction and it will never happen, but here we are! it is now all turning very real.
What used to be science-fiction has now become our 2020 reality!
life will never be the same again...
staying virtually connected
I am living completely on my own and it has been two weeks now that I have not been out of my flat or been in physical contact with anyone. I am totally isolated but the good thing is that there is a sense of community in my building and my neighbours are offering help and support. We are all part of a whatsapp group and we are all helping and supporting each other with information on where to find food, where to go online to make orders. There are some food exchanges happening and it is great to feel that sense of community and humanity. Sometimes, we also try having a bit of a laugh and cheering everyone up with some silly GIFs and funny pictures.
There is also my very good friend and colleague Noëlle! we are calling each other almost every day, cheering ourselves up!
I don't know how long this situation will last but I can feel in my guts that life will never be the same ever again...
Stay all safe and healthy! Let's take care of each other and hopefully we will go through this and go back to some sort of normality very soon.
THE GIRL NEXT DOOR