How long have you been self-isolating? I have been limiting my movement to essential trips (only two to the grocery store) and exercise outside. At the time of this writing, most U.S. states are under shelter-in-place orders (meaning that all non-essential businesses are closed) and stay-at-home orders (meaning that people are advised to stay at their residence except for essential activities, such as grocery shopping or obtaining medical care). While I am quite familiar with the policies in my area, I was surprised to learn about how the pandemic is unfolding in other parts of the world.
“The air is finally clean, but we’re not allowed to go outside.” That is what my friend in South Korea mentioned to me a few weeks back when her city was virtually put on lockdown. I’m sure you have all seen reports that pollution has dropped significantly with the sharp decrease of people on the roads and in the sky. This is certainly the case for South Korea. By measuring nitrogen dioxide levels in the air—“NO2” is a gaseous air pollutant that contributes to the chemical reaction that makes ozone—scientists found consistently lower gas emissions, which correlate to strict government-led social distancing policies.
“A man got arrested while he was out walking his dog and he had to abandon the dog on the street while he rode to the police station.” I heard this tale from a friend who is living under quarantine in Russia. The rule in Moscow (at the time of this writing) is essentially a strict stay-at-home order. While many of the stay-at-home orders in the United States have been instated, they are not actually enforced. My friend in California, who is living under a stay-at-home order, told me that she still goes out for walks on occasion without any hassle. My friend in Moscow, however, says that she savors her weekly trips to the grocery store, as it is the only time that she can freely move outside of her city apartment without fear of harassment from law enforcement. The story at the top of this paragraph was reported in the news and has become a cautionary tale to Muscovites about the penalties that you can face (usually a fine) for leaving the house for non-essential business.
“Everything is fine. The streets are just emptier without the tourists.” News outlets have reported on the ‘authoritarian power grab’ that has played out in countries like Hungary during the spread of coronavirus. The Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, has declared a state of emergency in the country and has used this status to pass laws by decree, thereby circumventing the legislative system. A friend of mine is currently living in Hungary’s capital Budapest. When we asked him what it was like living under the new laws, he simply responded that things were fine. He works from home, gets takeout with his girlfriend, and has no problems navigating the streets now that all of the foreigners are gone.
“Things are okay. I still have to go into work.” A Dutch friend of mine started her job the week that the Netherlands declared lockdown measures. While some of my friend’s colleagues were able to work remotely, she, as a newbie, still has to show up on-site for her essential job. Like most other places, her city has shut down all non-essential business, but as far as she knows, enforcement of the policies is not that strict (and people still bike sometimes).
The Queen of England gave a rare speech recently to address the pandemic. At one point she stated: “While we have faced challenges before, this one is different. This time we join with all nations across the globe in a common endeavor.” This pandemic has engaged the world with the fury of a war, but this time, we are all fighting on the same side. When countries like the U.S., China, and Russia are pushing similar policies to achieve the same end, we will see change.
I wish you health, happiness, and hope in your self-isolation, Dear Reader. If you ever feel alone or small during this period, remember that there are billions of others out there fighting for a better future, just like you are today.