The months leading up to lockdown
In late December, I remember laughing and sharing memes about how there is an outbreak every century on the 20th year, such as the one below.
Then in early January when we started getting reports of a new disease outbreak in Wuhan, with ‘flu-like’ symptons, and a few dozen people had been hospitalized and it came from a wet market. I thought, ‘how interesting, I wonder if those markets will be banned there’ll be fewer poaching of exotic animals’, I also assumed Chinese authorities would contain it, China is after all a developed nation with advanced medical knowledge. The way I felt towards the situation was similar to the way I felt towards Ebola, the deaths were tragic but it was far away and being handled by experts, it was something that grabbed everyone’s attention but not something to worry about too much.
The Pandemic develops further, by mid-February I am getting nervous, I tell my flatmates that I think the Pandemic will make it’s way to Britain eventually and maybe we should get ready together in case we are locked down together. They essentially laugh at me and tell me to stop worrying, ‘it’s not coming here.
When I have a facetime with Mum, she voices the same concerns and said ‘that shit will come over here, start preparing for a quarantine’. I started buying more tinned meals, dried food, an extra bottle of soap and shower gel in my Morrison’s orders from then on in preparation for if I had to stay quarantined in my accommodation. I had enough to see me through for a month. At that time, I thought when COVID-19 properly hit, the lockdown would last for a couple of months, then the virus would be brought under control by summer and life would go back to normal. So I was stockpiling before it was a trend in March. Before you accuse me of selfishness, I am an asthmatic, I knew then, based on the reports of which people were dying from other countries, that I was at risk and this virus could potentially kill me.
March comes and the spring term approaches it’s end, and as cases rise there is a brief debate on whether to return to my hometown in Hertfordshire. Do I stay in my accommodation at York, which at the time had very few cases and ride out quarantine for a few weeks, (because everything will surely return to normal by May, right?), but risk getting severely ill, alone in an empty accommodation block with no-one to call an ambulance for me if it gets that bad, or, go back home with my family who will look after me if I get ill but also increase the likelihood of getting sick since Hertfordshire was a COVID-19 hotspot at the time. We decide that I go home, which as we all know now was the right decision. Before my family comes to pick me up I nip into town to buy embroidery thread for a project, since we knew by now that a quarantine was inevitable, we just didn’t know when, the city centre is quieter than usual, students are leaving the university and people are avoiding going out since there were 3 known cases in York at the time. I pack as if I am going home for Easter, half-believing I will come back in May, and my parents drive me home on the 15th of March.
By the 15th of March, the WHO has declared COVID-19 a worldwide pandemic, Italy is in lockdown and is the country the UK media focuses on the most. The cases in the UK is the hundreds but seem to be relatively contained and centred in the big cities.
At home we behave as if lockdown has already started, we don’t go anywhere, don’t visit friends, don’t eat out in pubs or browse around the town I haven’t seen in months and stay glued to the news, receiving every terrible update, every terrible new statistic, every terrible picture of makeshift hospitals, white zipped body bags and growing mass graves from around the world, just watching it all develop. At the time, Italy was in lockdown and the Northern regions, particularly in Lombardy. We are told by experts that we are two weeks behind Italy and will reach a peak in about 2 months.
Thus it becomes clear a lockdown is nigh, and on the 22nd of March we drive back up to York to clear out my room and return my key. I couldn’t take back all my food and spices, so a friend staying on campus relieved them of me. We laugh at another families struggling to fit all their contents in their car as we take off.
The next couple of days we unpack my stuff and lockdown is announced on the 26th of March, we are not to leave the house except for buying essentials and exercising outside once a day. I make a lockdown to-do list, a list of subjects to revise (because I’ll definitely be productive during all this free time won’t I?) and craft projects I started months ago and forgot about to finish.
Over the next few months life passes like a dream, the days blend into one. Wake up at nine, eat breakfast, do some revision, walk the dog in the local park for the daily outdoor venture, do some exercise mid-afternoon and then focus on my craft projects. Except I didn’t manage to keep to my exercise routine and would go two weeks without rigid exercise, then a few days of being motivated enough to do it every day, and then doing about every 4 days, also not revising very rigidly, procrastinating by watching YT videos with my textbook open and only managing to do 4 questions. Why am I like this
My initial panic wore off and I became less concerned, ‘what if it isn’t so bad?’, ‘I’m young so I’ll be fine”, “why don’t I just get it so I have antibodies’, I then look at a subreddit dedicated to people sharing their experiences of covid-19, and after reading a story from a physically-fit, no health conditions 30 year-old describing how difficult breathing was, I thought ‘f*ck that, I need to take this more seriously, after all my lungs hurt after doing a 30-second sprint, what hope do I have against a virus that seems to attack the lungs? I spent the following hours re-reading the doctor’s advice on what to do if you get coronavirus and learned that lying on your front is the best to do if you are struggling to breathe.
During the third term I dutifully attend my online lectures and complete practice questions relating to the new subjects. I feel quite proud of myself for sticking to the new routine of lectures, but then am I fortunate to be in a peaceful household, with the chief income earner in a well-paying job. Despite this we are all instructed to spend no money on non-essentials. After third term I continue a routine of trying to revise in the mornings and doing other things in the afternoon. I attend social zoom calls, python and Latex lessons online but failing to actually learn anything.
Then, in May, the breadwinner of the family loses his job. ‘Not to worry, he’ll be hired within a couple of months’. As of mid-August, he still doesn’t have a new job and our finances are uncertain.
When the lockdown started to ease, my family still didn’t go anywhere or spend much; we weren’t confident to spend what money we have so long as none of us have jobs. I try to find jobs to do but no-one wants a student who will leave in September, so to get some work experience I have been volunteering at a Charity shop.
That’s it, nothing exciting, it’s the 25th of August and I haven’t even finished all the revision and craft projects, despite having 5 months at home to do so. I await the beginning of Autumn term with both excitement and dread.