by Marit Pepplinkhuizen
Opinion/Politics Section Editor
The editorial team of The Voice, international student magazine consists of people from many different countries, so we asked people from all over the world to summarize how the current COVID-19 pandemic has affected daily life in their home country and we have compiled an overview for you with the most up-to-date information and personal stories about the impact of COVID-19 worldwide.
- France: “We are at war”
- Germany: Advised to stay indoors, but no curfew yet
- Romania: “National Emergency”
- Poland: Many initiatives to help one another
- Lithuania: Preparing for a crisis
- England: Herd-immunity but schools closing
- Scotland: The people blame the government
- United States: People losing jobs and not able to afford healthcare
- Canada: Prime-minister in self-isolation
- Venezuela: People are making their own face masks
- Australia: Stockpiling craze
- New-Zealand: A lot of guidelines
- Iraq: “We don’t panic. We’re used to hardship”
- Turkey: Distrust in government figures
- India: First cases thought to be connected to Wuhan
- South Africa: HIV-positive people at higher risk
Disclaimer: the statements presented within this article represent the personal views of the people who contributed to this article on how the COVID-19 crisis has affected their home country (or countries). For accurate information on the current measures in place and the latest news from each country please check the official government websites provided under the statement for each country.
For more information in general on COVID-19 check one of our previous articles on the topic.
Number of COVID-19 cases according to the John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center:
France: “We are at war”
“The most heavily affected regions seem to be Ile-de-France (Paris) and le Grand-Est (the east of the country). Apparently, in the East, hospitals are already over capacity (particularly in the city of Mulhouse). At the beginning of this week President Macron said that "we are at war" and the army will be brought in to help relieve hospitals and transfer patients to less crowded hospitals. He also said billions of euros will be made available to businesses in order to avoid bankruptcies.”
“People are being told to stay at home as much as possible, to only leave the house for necessities and that they will be required to have a document stating the reason for leaving their home as failure to comply can result in being fined.”
“These measures are due to the fact that many people in France gathered together in defiance of the initial warnings of the government to stay home.”
Official information from the government of France here (in English).
Germany: Advised to stay indoors, but no curfew yet
“All ‘unnecessary’ shops and businesses are closed except supermarkets, pharmacies, etc. Restaurants are still allowed to be opened between 9-18, which many people believe to be ridiculous. Yet, a lot of people, especially younger people, do not really take the situation seriously and still meet outside. The uni library and cafeterias closed on Wednesday, all exams are postponed and the semester start has been moved back by one week, administration is asked to work from home if possible and all office hours are cancelled.”
"It has been on the news that there has been quite some fake news going around via WhatsApp the last few days and many newspapers and other services try to clear those up."
“Entry from other countries has been restricted, but the borders have not been closed completely. They merely "advise" to stay home and avoid contact but have not really enforced it yet. There is no curfew yet.”
Official information from the government of Germany here (in English).
Romania: “National Emergency”
“Romania has declared the pandemic a “National Emergency” and is set to apply all measures necessary starting from Monday 16th of March 2020. The National Emergency not only allows laws and decisions to be taken extremely quickly without necessarily going through the Romanian Parliament (e.g. closing borders, ordering searches without a warrant, strict surveillance, etc.), but it also made every measure against the spread of the virus even more strict.”
"Until now, there is no community spread in Romania, so the government roughly knows who has been infected and who that infected person has socialised with, but these facts may change very soon. Those infected are either placed in Institutionalized Quarantine or in Quarantine at home."
“The reason why Romania still has under 200 officially infected people is that they took action very, very early, closing all flights from abroad and blocking most of the borders with neighbouring countries. Furthermore, since very early on, each person from “Red Zones” entering Romania with the symptoms of COVID-19 was escorted by the Romanian Police to a nearby quarantine facility. Thus, while some countries weren’t doing anything, the government was already taking measures. Now in the capital there is a number of hospitals only taking care of patients infected by COVID-19. The government forbids the export of medicine that is useful against the battle against the coronavirus, and they are now regulating the price of masks and hand sanitizer.”
“Ever since the “National Emergency”, every new passenger arriving in Romania has to stay 2 weeks in quarantine, and regular checks are made to check on that.”
"Huge fines and maybe even prison time are a possibility if the police don’t find you at your place while you were supposed to be in isolation."
“All the pubs, restaurants, entertainment venues are closed, and most of the shops in the malls (which are very empty) are either closed or have very restricted opening and closing hours. Only 2 people at a time are allowed in small stores and pharmacies, in big stores like LIDL or Carrefour people are told to wait outside if the number of customers inside the store is too big. Still, the situation in Romania is still under control and the number of official people infected is not rising very rapidly compared to other countries.”
Official information from the government of Romania here (in Romanian).
Poland: Many initiatives to help one another
“Poland is in a state of emergency as well, just like Romania and other countries. People are encouraged to stay at home and many public places are closed. You can still buy general supplies, but there has been a large shortage like everywhere. However, you can buy pretty much everything.”
"Streets are basically empty and people do not really hang out, so the country looks quite dead."
“Yet, it is still pretty dynamic and there are many organised groups that help each other out and especially the elderly with basic things like shopping. People in general don’t break quarantine rules, they generally stay at home, there are many strong initiatives even in the professional sector. For example, psychologists offer free help; and there is a lot of online help for whoever needs it.”
“All flights with foreigners have been cancelled, and every Pole has to be subjected to 2 weeks of strict quarantine when coming from abroad. However, there are no travel restrictions by car, you can travel pretty much anywhere. All the trains are cancelled from abroad as well. There can only be 2 people inside of small stores and pharmacies and the rest have to wait outside. People are working with masks and gloves. However, all public transport is still open, so you can still travel by tram, car, train, bus etc. Police frequently patrol to see if there are no big gatherings (it is highly discouraged), and if they do find gatherings they cannot fine these people but the police will make sure it is broken up. It is highly discouraged to go outside at all, except if there is a valid reason.”
"Hospitals are doing fine, people are not leaving their houses if it is not an emergency, and Poland is preparing for the worst. Everyone within the healthcare system is aware that this is just the beginning, so they are preparing to brace themselves for what is worse to come, so the current healthcare system will definitely be tested."
“There are no facemasks anywhere since around 1 month, due to the initial panic (which has now ceased a little bit) and all the supplies are being bought by hospitals at the moment. There is no shortage in gloves, shops are full of them. Of course, all universities and schools are closed; all the students staying in dorms were asked to leave them, and for those who wished to stay, they were informed that their dorms will be repurposed to accommodate people in quarantine. So the ones that stay will have to effectively be quarantined as well and all their supplies will be brought to them directly.”
Official information from the government of Poland here (in English).
Lithuania: Preparing for a crisis
“Lithuania has declared a national quarantine in response to the pandemic. Though the country only has a few documented cases at this time, the recent growth of European cases has prompted Lithuania to completely close its borders last Monday. All restaurants and bars are closed. People who have returned from a foreign country in the last 2 weeks are expected to quarantine themselves. So far there is no widespread community transmission in Lithuania. Last weekend, a Danish student who tested positive for coronavirus reported visiting a number of bars and nightclubs while sick before these were closed, so a number of new cases are expected.”
“Food in stores was sold out the first few days but the situation has stabilized now. Lithuanian citizens are attempting to return to Lithuania but many have been left behind the border. The government is currently looking for a way to bring these individuals home without endangering the population. Strong measures are being taken to ensure crisis response is appropriate. There are drive-in testing stations being setup throughout the country and all members of the public health system are preparing for an inevitable surge in cases.”
"All manufacturers of alcohol have been ordered by the state to shift their production to hand sanitizer to provision the population."
Official information from the government of Lithuania here (in Lithuanian).
England: Herd-immunity but schools closing
In the UK as well the government is aiming for herd-immunity. Everyone would have to get it for the herd-immunity to work, similarly to in the Netherlands. However, pubs and restaurants were told to shut on Friday 20th of March, just after The Voice received the following statements.
"Everything is still open. The government has only said to avoid going to pubs/bars etc. Everyone is still at work and school."
“The main thing currently in the UK for debate is the closure of schools. Many people are arguing for it to reduce spread of the virus, but a lot of people are against it, citing that a lot of children's parents who are nurses would have to leave their jobs to take care of their children. Critics say there is not really a good system in place and the government seems to just be throwing numbers around.”
“On Wednesday 18th of March it was announced in the UK that schools are closing on Friday. Daily life might be noticeably different from then on. Daily life has not really been that impacted or different, since up until now the government has not enforced anything, merely given “advice” and “recommendations”, such as to not meet in big groups, avoid unnecessary journeys, work from home if possible, self-isolate for 14 days if you have symptoms etc. People over seventies have been advised to stay at home because they are a vulnerable group, but many think that might not be true. Shops and the usual places have been open.”
"The most noticeable thing has been the panic buying. Co-op, one of the local supermarket chains, has been out of toilet roll and all antibacterial products. "
“Everyone has been out on the streets as normal, and most people go to work as usual. The cafés are only noticing a difference in the number of customers since this week, but there are still some customers.”
“During this week, there is an issue with some people still saying amazing things like “ooh yeah this virus, I don't think it exists, it's probably just a hoax, I don't believe it” (overheard at the airport).”
- Chris, Charlotte & Ben
Official information from the government of the UK here (in English):
Scotland: The people blame the government
“In Scotland people have been urged to work from home, but it is not compulsory. Bars and schools are still open. Toilet paper has, however, as in many countries, been sold out and the shelves are half-empty in the stores. The people in Scotland are in general not all too happy about the policies and some are panicking. They blame the government for not wanting to see the problem and critics say that the neoliberal policy of the conservatives is at the root of not taking Corona seriously.”
"They state that the attitude of the government comes down to: ‘it doesn’t matter if people die, because otherwise it is bad for the economy.’"
Official information from the government of Scotland here (in English).
United States: People losing jobs and not able to afford healthcare
“Coronavirus cases in the United States are growing rather quickly. At the beginning of the outbreak, the American Center for Disease Control (CDC) released test kits in response to the growing epidemic in China. Right after approval and distribution these test kits were recalled by the CDC. This has resulted in a somewhat delayed response as it took much longer than it should have for Americans to build up a large testing capacity.”
“The federal government had long stated that the crisis was not going to be very serious domestically for Americans. This line of rhetoric has since changed as America approaches a state of emergency. As the states have a degree of autonomy over themselves, particular measures have been left to them. Many states have closed bars and restaurants in response to the growth in cases. Most public officials expect this crisis to last a long time and the president has stated that they expect there could be multiple waves of the disease and it might last more than 18 months.”
“Many Americans are taking the epidemic quite seriously and staying indoors. There has been a shopping frenzy with particular goods such as toilet paper and hand sanitizer selling out rather quickly.”
"There have been some famous stories such as the one man who purchased 17700 litres of hand sanitizer and was banned from Amazon for price gouging."
“The healthcare system of the United States has created an obstacle for the people who work minimum wage. In response, the government has recently announced it will cover all Coronavirus related medical expenditures and that people can expect a basic monthly check from the government during this quarantine period to help them deal with expenses and potentially missing employment. For those interested in socioeconomic reform, this may be the first step towards the implementation of Universal Basic Income.”
"Treatments for the Coronavirus are costly and there is no such thing as sick leave."
“Finally, the economic concerns associated with the virus are great. Supply chains are disrupted along with the sales and cash flows of virtually every company. This means that many people are losing their jobs as their companies are no longer able to pay their salaries. This has also put the world at risk of a serious financial recession.”
Official information from the government of the United States here (in English).
Canada: Prime-minister in self-isolation
It has recently been reported that, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is in self-isolation after his wife tested positive for COVID-19.
“Approximately one week ago, the response to COVID-19 in Canada began to shift from taking modest precautions, such as carrying hand-sanitizer with you in public and social distancing, to becoming the genuine pivot of nearly everyone’s life.”
"The announcement that the NBA (National Basketball Association) would postpone their season last week was one of the first events to send shock waves across North America; watching sports like basketball are a part of the stable, reassuring fabric of everyday reality for many Canadians."
“Today most people are self-isolating (there isn’t currently a state-enforced self-quarantine) and avoiding all non-essential events. Additionally, Canada has introduced travel bans and has closed the US-Canadian border. Some of the biggest problems that Canada faces include making mass testing available and also enacting an economic stimulus for Canadians who need help paying their rent and buying basic amenities when many have been told to stay home from work without pay. My province, Ontario, has suspended all new or processing evictions in order to ensure that no one loses their homes or apartments in this time.”
"There is also an emergency care budget that will give up to 900 $ bi-weekly to Canadians who do not have paid sick-leave or employment insurance."
Official information from the government of Canada here (in English).
Venezuela: People are making their own face masks
“There are currently just over 40 reported cases in Venezuela. However, the whole country is under lockdown since this week. People are not allowed to leave their houses without a valid certificate (like in France). People are not being allowed into certain places, like markets, without a face mask. However, finding face masks in Venezuela is very difficult (and this has likely been the case even before the COVID-19 pandemic), so people have been making their own face masks with what they can. This might seem like a disproportionate response for such a low number of cases.However, Venezuela's health care system has been failing and strained for years under the current government.”
"Even before the COVID-19 pandemic there has been a shortage of proper medical equipment and drugs for treating patients."
“Also, some people suspect the government is trying to withhold information on the true number of positive COVID-19 cases in the country.”
“Furthermore, public gatherings are forbidden, restaurants can only serve take-away, banks are all closed until further notice, it is necessary to queue for food, there are no gloves or face masks available in shops but some people are still selling them.”
"Like in most countries it is recommended that you wash your hands with soap regularly but there is no water or electricity in some parts of the country."
- David & Carolina
Official information from the government of Venezuela here (in Spanish).
Australia: Stockpiling craze
“Any person arriving from overseas is required to self-isolate for 2 weeks. Non-essential outdoor gatherings of more than 500 people have been banned, as well as indoor gatherings of more than 100 people (bad timing for weddings, birthdays, funerals etc.).”
"People are stocking up on essentials and disinfectants from supermarkets - there is a lot of videos on social media of people getting into fights over toilet paper, which has been hard to buy over the last 2 weeks or so."
“A lot of universities are delivering classes online where possible. Everyone has been advised to stay at home or work from home as much as possible. There is no reports of community-spread of COVID-19 in South Australia yet. Supermarkets have introduced an hour of shopping purely for at-risk people and the elderly.”
Official information from the government of Australia here (in English).
New-Zealand: A lot of guidelines
“People arriving from another country in New-Zealand have to self-isolate. There has been a call for all New-Zealanders to return to New-Zealand if they are in another country. Non- New-Zealanders cannot get into the country. All big and semi-big events have been cancelled. A lot of guidelines have been published, which also include phone numbers for mental health services and all the measures taken regarding an economic crisis. New-Zealand has over 30 cases now which are all people who came back to New-Zealand from another country.”
Official information from the government of New Zealand here (in English).
Iraq: “We don’t panic. We’re used to hardship”
“In Iraq there has been a lot of fake news going around, such as that you have to gurgle with salt and water, or vinegar to destroy the virus. Fortunately, there are a lot of Iraqi sources that are trying to combat the spread of misinformation by spreading the correct information.”
"The country started its gradual shutdown with the schools on the 27th of February, and soon after group prayers, weddings, and other sorts of gatherings were banned."
“Movement between the governorates has been limited to the transportation of goods. A curfew started on midnight of the 18th of March. The Iraqi health system has not been overwhelmed yet. People do not seem to be panicking. “We don’t panic. We’re used to hardship” seems to be their motto.”
Official information from the government of Iraq here (in English).
Turkey: Distrust in government figures
“Turkey started closing down its land borders and cancelling flights from affected countries quite early in February. As of the 17th of March 2020, all non-crucial businesses and establishments that cause public gatherings, such as bars, cafés, theaters, cinemas, internet cafés and playgrounds, are closed until further notice. The schools are also closed until the end of March. Officials have so far refused to discuss the possibility of a curfew. According to the Ministry of the Interior, around 10,000 people are currently under quarantine in the country.”
“People have a stoic stance in the face of recent developments, although both the pandemic and the announced measures are being taken seriously by most. There are issues with people panic buying and stockpiling food and essential items, as well as medical masks and gloves. One reason for this is the lack of trust towards patient statistics released by the government.”
"Crucially, Singapore and Taiwan diagnosed a total of ten passengers arriving from Turkey with the virus before Turkish officials announced any confirmed cases at all, which diminished the credibility of the government’s effort to keep up with the pandemic."
Official information from the government of Turkey here (in Turkish).
India: First cases thought to be connected to Wuhan
“It is believed that about 150 people got infected by three students who were traveling from Wuhan. It is expected that there will be more cases and people are panicking about it. Sanitisers and masks are sold out. Yet, India has a huge support system and medical workers within the country who will help everyone.”
"If it becomes a pandemic in India then it is believed to become a huge crisis."
“The prime minister has addressed the nation and the borders are closed until the 31st of March. Furthermore, there is a lot of fake news in social media in India. There has been general fear mongering with misinformation.”
Official information from the government of India here (in English).
South Africa: HIV-positive people at higher risk
“Like the rest of the African continent, South Africa did not register significant COVID-19 cases until relatively recently.”
"As of Friday March 20th, there were 202 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country, making it the second worst affected country on the continent behind Egypt with over 250 confirmed cases."
“On March 15th, president Cyril Ramaphosa announced social distancing measures in an address that was not different in form and content from those delivered around the world.”
“The South African response to the virus, however, has highlighted two concerns with particular clarity: it’s potential intersection with other endemic diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis (TB) as well as the exacerbating effects of economic inequality on the individual and collective capacity to respond to the crisis.”
Around 7.7 million South Africans live with HIV according to the National Institute for Communica-ble Disease (NICD) and the South African Academy of Sciences warned that individuals with HIV could be eight times more likely to be hospitalized for pneumonia upon contracting the virus and are potentially three times more likely to die from it.
“A similar concern will face many countries in sub-Saharan Africa with similar HIV and TB rates. On a more positive note, leading public health experts have pointed out that the country’s experience with HIV means that it is relatively well equipped to detect and act on cases of COVID-19.”
“South Africa also consistently ranks among the most unequal societies in the world and there are concerns that inequality will dramatically impact who will be able to afford social distancing and the loss of income it may entail. Furthermore, the South African healthcare system is divided between private and public hospitals. The latter are already severely strained in terms of resources and staff, while the former are prohibitively expensive for the majority of citizens who do not have private health insurance.”
While the economy and the healthcare system might discriminate, the virus will not and inequality may present a barrier to an effective response to the crisis.
Official information from the government of South Africa here (in English).
For some countries for which people had a lot more to say we have chosen to highlight them as separate articles. For example, we recently published an article about how COVID-19 has affected Spain which you can read here. More highlights on different countries such as Italy and The Netherlands will soon follow! If you would like to write about your own country contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.