Humans under lockdown — How people across the world are coming to terms with the 'new normal'

Stories of people across the globe coming to terms with the 'new normal' during the virus-enforced lockdown.
Updated 22 May 2020

“The virus does not discriminate”Many world leaders have said this since the coronavirus spread and halted life as billions knew it across the globe.

Pakistan was still relatively late among the countries reporting their first cases. Being in the newsroom, however, it was like watching a meteor approach, with all the flashing warning signs — and headlines — yet very little preparedness.

When it hit, it hit hard and brought everyday life to a standstill. We entered a worldwide lockdown; ‘the new normal’.

To make us feel closer when physical distances have never been this real, Dawn.com reached out to people in different parts of the world to bring you their stories during the pandemic.

Name: Yashy Selvadurai Murphy

Location: Toronto, Canada

A city that was so vibrant and awake at all hours of the day is now quiet.

That said, downtown Toronto is still populated with lines at grocery stores and building construction continuing. Our essential staff continues to keep the city functioning and in downtown Toronto, each evening people flock to their balconies and front yards to bang pots and pans in honour of healthcare and essential workers in our city.

After spending two weeks self-isolating, where our family of 4 (two adults and two kids aged 6 and 8) spent the entire day in our 1037sq ft condo and no public parks or playground to release energy at, we decided to move in with my parents in Niagara on the Lake. Not only do we have a backyard for the kids but we now have more space indoors so my husband can continue to work while the kids and I do their daily school work that their teachers send us every morning.

We continue to share recipes we’re making on our blog ParentingToGo.ca and my Instagram and Facebook pages.

During this time, I’ve learned that multi-generational living can be tough but it’s also helpful as we have extra hands to help entertain the kids. I also don’t have to cook each and every meal! I’ve learned that we’re all resilient and will adapt to current conditions when times call for it.

Name: Jojo Chartei Quansah

Location: Accra, Ghana

Ghana’s fight against the coronavirus began at the start of March, when a limited lockdown remained in place for three weeks.

Since the lockdown was lifted on April 30, social distancing has become rather difficult to enforce. This is a country in which handwashing has been campaigned for decades. I believe all those campaigns are paying off today. My generation grew up with this habit and now with the increased opportunities to wash and sanitise hands, old habits are falling in place.

My kids took the first hit when the virus emerged. Schools closed early on and they had to adjust to an early vacation. They also had to be counselled out of a growing fear of the unknown. They know more about the virus now, and as kids do, have learnt not to give it a thought.

I have always had a home office. I use it more now. During the lockdown, it was not always easy visiting our business outside the city. But as we are in agriculture, law enforcement always gave us and our logistics people a pass at checkpoints.

We have all been quite busy chasing all sorts of passions, desires and projects. Coronavirus has been a shock to that system. We have been forced to take a pause, hide away and reflect. The time spent locked down with family has been an opportunity to really put life into the right perspective.

We have been reminded of the things that really matter. I believe the world after coronavirus, will be a more reflective place. But we shall see.

Name: M. Engin Topaloglu

Location: Istanbul, Turkey

The first day coronavirus patients were suspected in Istanbul, the company that I work for decided that their employees would work from home. Many people who can work online managed to change their lifestyle but the same change did not take place for the worker in service or construction industry.

I can understand the people who have to go outside for a living. However, I will never understand the people who go outside for no cause and don’t wear a mask.

Amidst the bad things, there was also good; people understood the importance of staying home, managing time. Fortunately, we have time to read books for expanding our knowledge, watch movies for fun — the activities we could not spend time on before because of having to earn money.

My family mostly stays home, but my father is a dentist and plays an important role during the pandemic by collecting samples from people who are possibly infected. We pray for him every single day. Once home, he first takes a shower before coming into contact with us. Our eating pattern has changed; we try to strengthen our immunity.

I can stay home during the pandemic but I cannot say that for all the people in Istanbul. Many people have to work outside; otherwise, they will not get their salary. Hopefully, through this, people will understand how universal basic income is important for all of us.

Name: Aamir Syed

Location: Fairfax, Virginia, USA

Most of the people I work with and out in public understand the significance of the outbreak and are doing everything they can to avoid catching it.

The most significant change is learning to slow down, and the amount of time people are spending with their families. Life here is fast-paced, filled with a hustle and bustle of trying to get as much done in as short an amount of time as possible. This has come to a screeching halt.

I am learning how to slow down a bit, something my wife is much better at than I am. I am getting used to the benefits of reflection and downtime. I love watching, day by day, as my nine-year-old daughter grows. She loves to travel, and stay in different hotels and reminisces about doing it again one day. As a family, we have learned to appreciate so much more and recognise we have taken much for granted. Shelter in one place can be mundane and monotonous, so we are trying to think of creative things to do week by week to break up the pattern.

Professionally, I feel disconnected with the people I work with; despite the videoconferences, it just does not feel the same. I also enjoy going to the gym, playing basketball with friends, eating out, and look forward to the day when these activities open back up again!

I am impressed by all the initiatives — some driven by organisations and others by neighbours — to help the poor, as well as essential workers on the front lines, obtaining access to food, funding, and/or PPE. I think despite political misgivings, people want to help those in need and collectively, we are all much better for it.

Name: Ina Solomon

Location: Bucharest, Romania

Bucharest is Romania’s capital, thus the epicentre of the epidemic, and has been severely affected.

Our lives changed overnight; it was like living inside a nightmare in the beginning. We woke up in a different city, stuck in our homes, empty streets, with a national emergency. The lack of activities outside our home led our energy towards our inner worlds, most of which were abandoned for a long time.

The first two weeks were very hard on us all. With two full-time working adults and one 10-year-old kid, our household was and is very busy all day long. We were forced into new routines with homeschooling and nonstop cooking, but we tried to make the best out of this situation. We have a good house and our home became our universe. Wednesdays and Fridays became movie nights, we started going out on the balcony to have coffee, and prepared Italian, American or Asian-inspired dinners.

We started regularly communicating our ideas and feelings during relaxed sessions in the living room. I personally plunged into home organising, small art projects, caring for my plants, house chores, daily exercise — just to name a few — to cope with anxiety and a hectic professional work schedule. Becoming creative and using our imagination have become an antidote to our negative emotions, which flood us constantly.

I’ve learnt again that life goes on no matter what. I was reminded that family is vital and that we are all in this together. We as global citizens are all connected as a big family, no matter where we find ourselves geographically. We are not in control anymore, which means we are all responsible and vulnerable so we must rely on each other and on our inner world; our psychic activity, our emotions, our relationships and our homes.

I hope people have learned from this crisis so that we can change and respect Mother Nature again.

Name: Rua’a Al-Ameri

Location: Dubai, UAE

Dubai is usually a bustling city, day and night, and due to the coronavirus pandemic, it became a bit of a ghost town.

Now, that’s not a bad thing. I am glad the authorities put in place strict measures to try and curb the spread of the deadly virus, but it has been a drastic change to the usual city life.

People are used to seeing each other often, whether at work or cafes and restaurants, or even in the malls or beaches, but since the lockdown, I’ve noticed we call each other more often and have longer chats on the phone as opposed to texting (something us millennials are obsessed with).

I’ve noticed that people have become more aware of their health and are encouraging others to be cautious of their health too. I hope this is something that stays with us even after this is all over. I hope it teaches us to always prioritise our health and the health of others around us.

Because Dubai is mainly an expat community, many of us are used to being far from our families and are unable to see them often, so we already have ways of keeping in touch by video calling.

Although the pandemic has caused restrictions on my freedoms, I’ve enjoyed the time at home. Working from home can get a bit boring sometimes, but looking at the bright side, I don't spend hours in traffic going back and forth. I save a lot on parking fines (I always forget to renew my parking ticket)! More time at home has also meant I get to spend more time with my brother and I’ve really learnt to cherish these moments, because you never know when you will get this time back.

Aside from that, the best gift quarantine has given me is time.

I have more time to exercise, read the books that I have neglected on my shelves, start an online course for my personal development. I’m also cooking more. And the best part is that with technology, I can share these moments with friends and family. I can film a mini cooking show for my mum or do a makeup review for my friends.

The lockdown has taught me patience; it has taught me to take a step back from such a fast-paced lifestyle, and to slow down and allow myself to try and see the positives in any situation. I realised that in this crisis, there are two types of people; the ones who dwell on the negatives and the ones who try to adapt and stay positive.

Yes, I have had to adapt to drastic changes in my life in a very short amount of time, but I decided to see the silver lining. I tell my friends and family, you can either sit and do nothing and be bored or you can use this time to learn something new, pick up a new hobby, try something you haven't before. You never know, you might discover you have a hidden talent.

Name: Mobeen Zahid

Location: Lahore, Pakistan

I haven’t really been out and about, staying home mostly and only going out to restock on food and groceries. Until maybe about a week ago, based on what I had seen in stores, people were generally observing the recommended precautions, wearing masks and maintaining distance from each other. But of late, it looks like most have thrown caution to the wind.

I also feel that in the early days people were more empathetic, being worried for themselves and others around them. Now though, it feels like the frustrating atmosphere is getting to everyone. It’s understandable considering the tremendous economic and social impact this pandemic has had all over the world, but I do feel that getting through this will demand a lot more.

My family has just hunkered down at home, getting to spend a lot of time with each other. As in many households, we’ve been keeping ourselves busy with new recipes and baking! The difficult part has been managing work. Being a musician, these problems are a little different from those who have steady jobs. My band Xarb had a few concerts lined up in schools around the province and we were really looking forward to them, but unfortunately (understandably) they were cancelled.

We were also working on finishing our album but not being able to be in one place together as a band has affected that process as well. We’re finding ways to adapt now since this problem isn’t going away anytime soon, but it seems like there are really difficult days ahead. Of course, being safe is the number one priority but we have to find a way to get to work very soon! This lockdown has been a good period for some self-reflection, having time to learn new things or brush up on some rusty skills.

I was pleasantly surprised in the early days seeing people actually make an effort to observe the recommended precautions when outside, but sadly the cynic in me has been proved right in the past week or so. It’s disheartening to see people acting irresponsibly in such a difficult time.

It’s easy to say we must raise awareness levels, but changing this mindset of not being socially responsible on a consistent basis is a much deeper problem, in my humble opinion. I do feel that it’s very important for people to get back to work, but making that process a safe one is going to take some real sacrifices and commitment.

Name: Marina Mosyakova

Location: London, UK

The pandemic had a massive impact on London as one of the busiest cities on Earth. Now grocery stores, drugstores and takeaways are open but nothing else. On a bad weather day, London looks almost like a post-apocalyptic abandoned city.

The UK is number 2 on the death rank after the USA now and the government is pretty strict on self-isolation and social distancing, but people seemed to care less after six weeks of lockdown. In the beginning, people were keeping a distance and stayed home most of the time. Now I see many more people socialising with friends in parks and in the streets.

My partner and I have no kids and it’s easier on us compared to those who do. Also, we are used to working remotely; it’s our usual way of working. He is a solicitor, I am a charity manager; both our jobs can be run from home. It is not such a great change on our routine.

My partner is amazingly comfortable in isolation. He only goes out for a 30-minute walk once a week. I go out for some fresh air and to buy food once in three days or so. The downside is that I cannot fly to Moscow to see my mum and sister, but we are in contact on WhatsApp almost every other day. They are coping and this is the most important thing for me — to know that my family and friends are safe and well.

An obvious realisation for me has been that people in the UK are not that different to Russians or Americans. The amount of panic buying soared in the first two weeks of the pandemic. Pasta, toilet paper, hand sanitiser sold out completely in all major chains while some independent shops and drug stores took advantage by selling hand sanitisers for £20 a bottle, which normally cost £2.

I thought I would panic more but I try to stay positive and support people around me; from buying food for the homeless to reconnecting with friends I have not heard from for years. When it feels like the world is crashing, the best way to stay sane is to be busy and help others.

Name: Olive Marie Sevilla

Location: Santa Rosa City, Philippines

I am a Dubai resident but currently I am stuck back home due to the lockdown. A lot of the businesses in Philippines have been forced to close down temporarily and since Philippines is a third world country and a lot of people rely on these businesses, the big and the small ones, most of them are really struggling.

Hospitals are only open for emergency and Covid-19 cases. In my area in Laguna, it's much safer; people practice social distancing and are more responsible than the ones in Manila.

The impact on my family has been massive — for me as well as my parents. My mom is one of the small business owners; she has a small restaurant that has been shut for almost two months now. My dad works in an explorer cruise ship that travels around Antarctica and the arctic; he told us that their season has ended but he can't come home yet and they are stuck just anchored on sea in Argentina. He can't even go out and what's worse is that they are not paid while stuck there.

I, on the other hand, came to the Philippines when I was 34 weeks pregnant; my plan was to give birth here and then leave by mid-May but that's not happening either. My husband is stuck in the UAE and was not even able to come when I gave birth in March. It was a happy and sad moment for us — happy for the birth of our first child and sad because we couldn't be together.

On top of that, we don’t know when we’ll meet next because of the lockdown and no air travel. I'm just enjoying each and every moment with my mom, my sister and my little one. I appreciate the little things that I used to do before; even my quick trips to the supermarket seemed like a chore before but now I can’t even remember the last time I was out.

For my husband and baby’s sake and everyone else’s, I hope one day this pandemic will end, and everything will be back to normal.

Name: Zain Zedan

Location: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia was among the first countries to take good action in locking down and implementing curfews to prevent the spread of the virus. People were very happy that the country took such fast action, and have been very strong and accommodating of the sudden changes.

As of recently, people have started to look and appreciate the small things around them, such as health, family, food and all the blessings we have in our country.

My family usually sits together and partakes in different activities in general, so the lockdown did not really change or impact our lives in a bad way. It brought us together; we cook together, play puzzles, exercise, watch TV, and sit and talk. It has mostly been positive things and we are always grateful that we are all together in this crisis and none of us is in a different country.

I have realised that I am much more positive compared to so many of my friends and relatives I speak to daily. I have been very optimistic throughout this time, always trying to do something with my time and be creative, as I am an artist by practice and one has to stay creative.

With regards to the people in my city, it’s never easy to be away from social life here and being put in a place for a period that is unknown. However, people have strong faith and belief that this will pass and our lives will be back to normal very soon.

Name: Mahvish Ahmad

Location: Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Like in any other country facing a lockdown, schools are shut and people are working from home. But, the lockdown in the Netherlands is called an ‘intelligent lockdown’ which means that while restaurants, theatres and most retail (non-essential shops) are closed, the government has given considerable freedom for public life to continue with as much normalcy as possible. People have been allowed to step out for fresh air, exercise, biking and walking their dogs.

The rule is the keep 1.5-meter distance, which is always seen to be well observed, and not meet in groups of more than 3. Violators will have to pay a fine of 400 Euros per person.

My family has adapted just like any other family. As a mother, I decided to go a little lax on the rules implemented at home for kids. I tried to not make a fuss about the mess or healthy eating or the academic performance of my 9-year-old, realising that for her too it is a big change.

As parents, we have made an effort to keep the channel of communication open with our kids so any kind of mental stress can be shared with us. We have made sure to step out everyday either for walks or biking around our neighbourhood; the walks have been very soothing and a break from the monotony and anxiety.

I have also drawn positivity by keeping my audience motivated and entertained through my blog content. Their positive feedback gives me a reason to feel good even during the stressful time.

As a couple, my husband and I have tried to ensure that the household chores are equally divided so that no one has to face the brunt alone. That has helped us care for each other and maintain a healthy, nurturing environment at home.

I am someone who likes to be on her toes all the time with a packed daily agenda. The lockdown has taught me that I can also enjoy a lazy day at home and that rest can also feel good.

Name: Jigar Mehta

Location: New Delhi, India

The biggest impact of the lockdown in India has been on the lower economic sector of the society due to loss of their daily earnings/wages. Large-scale migration has literally left businesses without any workers and for the first time, has made them realise the value and power of these labourers.

Due to the hit on the global economy and businesses virtually coming to a standstill, the biggest change in people has been buying what is necessary and not spending (or rather not being able to spend) on ‘non-essentials’.

On a positive note, the pandemic has also taught us self-reliance; from cooking a restaurant-style meal to undertaking home improvements.

We are family of five adults, three dogs and four fish, and because of the lockdown we all have been home together at a stretch for the first time. Initially when the lockdown was announced, it seemed like a task, but with work being shut and no deadlines to meet the stress levels have gone down.

We have started eating healthy with home-cooked meals and getting a good night’s sleep which was not possible due to a rushed lifestyle pre-Covid-19. There have been a lot of firsts during this lockdown; from my wife and I working out together to learning how to trim my own hair. As the whole world has slowed down, we have also realised the benefits of an easy and relaxed lifestyle — not only for us but for the environment and nature. Getting back to the chaos when everything opens up might actually make us miss the days of the lockdown.

One lesson that I have taken away from this situation is that as a race, humans have to be more respectful towards the other creatures inhabiting the planet and show more respect towards each other. In a situation like this, all the money in the world is of no use; what counts is the love and compassion towards each other and learning how to co-exist.

Name: Livia Lara

Location: São Paulo, Brazil

The coronavirus pandemic affected our routine dramatically. In São Paulo, kids have been out of school since middle of March and since then, many public places and businesses have been closed by decree.

Since May 11, the mayor implemented more restrictions on cars to prevent people from going out of their homes, but the effect was not as expected; even now, more than 50 per cent of the local population is circulating in the city on weekdays. I live in an apartment with my husband, two five-year-old boys and two dogs. The boys used to be at school from 7:30am to 6:30pm from Monday to Friday; now they have two-hour classes from Monday to Friday online and my husband and I take turns in homeschooling.

I was already working from home before the pandemic outbreak, so the only difference for me is that I can’t go to the gym in the morning and that I don’t have to travel to another city every three weeks to go to my head office. Since everybody in my team is working from home now, I feel more integrated with them; talking more frequently and attending more meetings.

My husband is also working from home since March 17. He says that although he is working more, it is less stressful, mainly because of the traffic. Another good impact is that I am talking more frequently with my parents, who live in a different city, and elderly relatives because I do not want them to feel lonely.

Dealing with work, homeschooling, entertaining children, all the family meals and housekeeping has been challenging, but we were able to establish a routine that works for everyone.

I am very glad that we are able to go through this unexpected situation with emotional balance and a positive perspective — which turned out to be the second most important thing after keeping Covid-19 away.

I am grateful for the most basic things I’ve always had and a lot of people don’t: for being healthy, and for having the social and economic conditions to be safe at home.

Name: Haya Lutfullah

Location: Karachi, Pakistan

The metropolitan city of lights fell silent under the lockdown. However, the beautiful sea breeze in the city felt fresher and the weather cooler.

I suppose being a homebody and perpetually working from home has some benefits. Whereas technically much of my life remained the same, I became a sponge to the outside world.

Sitting comfortably with little to no changes in my life other than majorly postponed work plans, slow business and an incredibly uncertain but life-changing future, I began searching for ways to share the privilege. With every snippet of news, I felt a growing responsibility to do something in my humble power for anyone outside of my immediate circle of loved ones. Existential questions preoccupied my mind but my purpose in life and motto became even clearer than before: what good is my education if the only person it benefits is me?

I have learnt to slow down whilst shunning the guilt that comes with slowing down. I have been reminded of how far a smile goes, how heavy albeit important the words ‘how are you feeling’ can be. I have learnt I am an avid listener but gravely struggle to detach myself from the woes and worries of those around me.

I have been reminded of my childhood; practices like sitting in the garden or playing games every evening and the magic those kind of days foster. Most importantly, I have been reminded of how life is just a series of the moments right now.

Name: Julia Wong

Location: Toronto, Canada

Canada, in general, has made swift decisions with our leader Justin Trudeau being a pillar of exemplary leadership. He hosts daily press conferences, and to date, the government has provided much-needed financial relief for the country.

With good subsidy programmes available for the millions of Canadians who have been furloughed and small to medium-sized businesses, Canadians who were comfortable before this unprecedented event are all still able to get by.

The city is of Toronto is in moderate lockdown, with only essential services open. Overall, residents have been fairly understanding and positive about the entire situation. The majority of the population is taking this seriously, with very few not following proper social distancing protocols. I would say going to the grocery store is the highest risk as once you’re in the store, people generally fall back into their old ways of wandering around, in search for food inspiration.

My family is all separated in our own homes. But we have now taken to food ordering in bulk once a week. As my parents are older and my dad at a higher risk, we ensure that he stays home and either my sister or I will put through an order of groceries for pick-up/delivery and then drop off a supply of foods to my parent’s front porch. We’ve had a few ‘get-togethers’ where my parents stand at their front door, my sister and her family staying on the front lawn (with my niece and nephew running around), and my husband and I at the end of the driveway/on the road.

I’ve been cooking/baking a lot more than usual. Lots of baked goods that I will then bring to my family as an excuse for a drive!

At 7:30pm every evening, the people in my neighbourhood come outside/stand on their balconies and make noise for our essential services workers. It’s a profound and heartwarming experience every night to hear everyone’s appreciation for the hard work of essential workers.

Many charitable events have been taking place across the city/country to help raise funds for food banks and other organisations that help to support the at-risk communities within Toronto; actions such as buy one meal and the restaurant donates another, or buy a home-made face mask and a portion of the funds get donated. It’s all heartwarming and makes those of us at home feel like we’re helping to do our part.

Name: Nosheen Abbas Kazmi

Location: Islamabad, Pakistan

Islamabad has always been termed a bubble and when you lock down (self-imposed lockdown in our case, well before there was an official one) you feel like you’re in an even deeper bubble.

My family adapted by having a routine — my two children helped in this regard.

The good thing about the lockdown is it gave me a lot of time for reflection; the noise and rut of everyday life melted away bringing into focus the things that really matter. I focused on things I had always wanted to but never got the time to.

The bad aspect was that there was unexpected anxiety I needed to work through. I also felt overwhelmed about wanting to help those who may not be privileged enough to just sit safely at home. I do miss going out and meeting the people I love but at least we remain safe by staying at home.

During this time, I’ve learnt that nothing is in our control. I’ve also learnt that I need to keep and find ways to keep myself calm. I’ve learnt that people in my city love cycling now!

What’s really heartwarming is that I’ve seen how people help each other, no matter what situation they’re in.

Design: Sukena Rizvi