Since 10 March Priya Singh has been stuck in Italy unable to return to her family. Taking walks daily, replacing physical coffees dates with virtual ones and celebrating birthdays via Zoom to keep in touch with friends and loved ones have made all the difference of getting through this time positively. In the meantime, Priya is working remotely and can’t wait to be reunited with her family and her beloved 83-year-old grandmother. Here is what it has been like in Italy.
Tell us more about your experience of the lockdown in Italy. It has been mixed. At first we were blissfully unaware of how explosive the situation would become in Italy. Moving to work from home / remotely was fairly easy, but as the restrictions tightened, and the length of time grew, I became increasingly despondent. The lines between work and personal time become very blurred when you are unable to move more than 500 metres away from your home or only be outside for essentials like grocery shopping or paying your bills. Creating a routine has been difficult and I have found myself spending a great deal of time on work/my computer.
From a social perspective, I have missed being able to see and speak to people physically, meet friends for drinks/coffees, or just stroll around the city on the weekends. Tensions were also high in the city and some of my colleagues and friends found themselves being chastised in the supermarkets for not wearing masks/gloves. On the positive side, we did not experience any food or supply shortages and delivery services were still able to make food/grocery deliveries throughout the lockdown. From a convenience perspective, the lockdown worked very well.
Did you expect things to turn out like this? Not at all. At first, we expected it to last a couple of weeks at most. It became increasingly alarming to see infections grow exponentially and it became very scary. In the midst of all of this, airlines stopped flying to Italy and many of my other expat friends expressed concern about being stuck in Italy for an extended period. Watching international news added to the distress.
Do you have regular contact with your family in South Africa? Yes, I try to video call three to four times a week and send video messages for my 83-year-old grandmother so she knows I’m ok and keeping healthy.
How do you keep yourself in a positive state of mind? It’s hard, to be honest. I’ve started meditating, taking daily walks, and carving out time consciously to speak to friends and learn some new skills via online training. As for my friends, we’ve replaced our physical coffees with virtual ones, have been celebrating birthdays via Zoom, and have weekly drinks via video call so we keep in touch with each other. Hearing a familiar voice and seeing a friendly face can make all the difference.
What are your thoughts regarding the situation in South Africa? I think the government acted early enough but like so many others, I’m torn about the economic impact this will have. I’ve been proud to see how fantastic the communication from the President has been, implementing decisions supported by data and science.
What do you think the ‘new normal’ will look like? It’s going to be a tough year for everyone. I think travel will continue to be severely restricted throughout 2020. Hopefully, in South Africa’s case, that will provide some much-needed investment in the local travel economy. There’s also the reality that many restaurants and companies won’t re-open after the lockdown because they simply can’t afford to. There’s also a possibility that health care will be a priority in many households and the government may consider acceleration of the universal health care implementation.
On the social side, I think the lockdown has taught many people how important it is to have physical contact with friends and family. The lockdown has also introduced many alternative ways of teaching and learning, and it will be interesting to see how this could be incorporated into regular teaching.
I have experienced first-hand how hard this lockdown is but want to encourage everyone to hang in there, it’s almost over. In the economic recovery post lockdown, entrepreneurship will be critically important. The government will be providing a level of support, but it will be incumbent upon us to help stimulate the economy and find ways to generate income. I would therefore encourage everybody to see this as an opportunity to change the trajectory of our country.