How self-isolation can bring us closer together

Two neighbors chat from their balconies during another day of isolation in Madrid on 19 March 2020. [EPA-EFE/MARISCAL]

This feature has originally been published by EURACTIV’s media partner EFE.

A strange side effect of government-mandated self-isolation is that it can bring you closer to people than ever.

When Spain ordered a nationwide lockdown last weekend, friends and family I hadn’t spoken with in months, and sometimes years, reached out on social media to ask after my safety.

First in line were the parents. My mother urged me to come back to Scotland, but she does that whenever I inform her of any minor inconvenience to have beset my life.

Then the brother, with a simple but to the point: “stay safe dude.”

Then the grandparents, who got in touch to tell me my parents had told them of the situation. My grandma, ever wise, urged me to stock up on wine.

And then came the friends, stretching all the back from the modern day to my high school era.

“You staying there, or coming home?” an old classmate from my high school in rural Scotland asked me.

Spain, my adopted country for the last five years, had just leapfrogged South Korea to lay the unenviable claim to being the fourth-worst cluster of coronavirus globally.

“Staying here I reckon.”

“Well, without sounding too soppy, stay safe.”

What starts as a simple message to ask what it’s like to live in quarantine spirals into a catch-up where you find out who broke up with who, who works where now and who has a child.

And it’s not just long-distance contact.

Every night at 8 pm, my whole street erupts with the sound of applause, as people come to their balconies to pay tribute to the health workers fighting the COVID-19 on the frontlines.

I use that opportunity to catch up with my neighbor, a woman in her 80s who lives by herself.

Looking across the street, I realise that others are doing the same, shouting down to the floors below: “Well, if you need anything, let me know!”

Life in lockdown

My friends at home in the UK were curious to know what life is like in a lockdown.

But I think my answers perhaps let them down.

My daily routine now consists of working from home on a temperamental laptop, working out to Youtube fitness videos and procrastinating instead of making a concerted effort to finally read War and Peace.

The streets around my apartment, normally abuzz with people this time of year as the days grow longer and warmer, have given over to an eerie silence.

But the truth is, I am more concerned about the safety of my friends and family back in the UK than my own.

When Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez addressed the nation at the weekend to inform Spaniards of the imminent national lockdown, my friends in the UK were still free to mingle at the pub, albeit without the familiar soundtrack of Premier League commentary, which had been suspended because of coronavirus.

Earlier this week, a Spanish friend living in Birmingham told me he was close to leaving the UK and returning to Spain as he felt unsafe with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s policy of allowing herd immunity in the British population.

Johnson has since slowly moved towards what many believe will be a full lockdown in the coming days and those messages of support have soon turned to pleas of advice.

“I feel like we’re living in a dystopian novel, and although that’s one of my favourite genres, I don’t like living it out in real life,” a university friend said, asking how I had managed to cope with panic buying.

The consensus now is that I’m a few steps ahead.

I’m not even the focus of my family WhatsApp group anymore, all eyes are on my brother, who has been keeping us up-to-date with the stocktake at his nearby supermarket.

Due to his line of work, he still has to commute to the office every morning on the London tube, something that has my mother worried about his potential exposure to germs.

“I have to go into work, I’ll be the last to be locked down,” he tells her.

“Stay safe dude,” I reply.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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