COVID-19 Around the World - 3 Outlook Residents Give a Global Glimpse

Three people with local connections share their experiences from Italy, Philippines and Ukraine

Canadians have been adapting to major changes in their daily lives, as have people around the world as the battle against the novel coronavirus continues.

Nicole Hermanson, daughter of Santhy and Milo Hermanson, has made her home in Italy for the past 10 years, a country that has been hit particularly hard by the virus. “I have officially been in quarantine since Wednesday afternoon March 11,” Nicole said.  “I was still going to houses to do English lessons up until that point.”

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She lives in Milan, in the northern region of Lombardia, the hardest hit region, where cases first presented themselves in the city of Codogno after a positive test of a 38-year old man and his pregnant wife. “That city was the first to be placed on complete lockdown,” Nicole remarked, “with police not letting anyone in or out of the city. We never imagined it would then lead to a country wide lockdown.”

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Nicole Hermanson is living in northern Italy, a region COVID-19 has hit particularly hard but she is feeling good and adjusting to a new way of life for the time being.

The Italian holiday Settimana Bianca meant schools were on a week-long break, but then came an announcement that all schools, universities and daycares would remain shut the last week of February. “At that point we still didn’t know what was happening and assumed that it would just be that week,” she said. During that time people were still free to move around the city, but practicing social distancing.

But the evening of March 10 they received official word that there would be a lockdown of the entire country, an announcement that led to a frenzy of movement. “There was a mad rush at the train stations,” Nicole said, “of people trying to get a seat on trains heading south.” Since many people who live in Milan are originally from the south, they were wanting to get home to their families prior to the start of the quarantine, and that led to a crushing number of people attempting to leave the north. Nicole said it was “insane to see the videos and pictures of the complete madness.” The major airports were also closed in Italy with the exception of a terminal for domestic flights.

The period of lockdown is to extend to mid-April but Nicole knows that could change. “Now it is unknown if the lockdown will remain in place until then but I can only imagine if our numbers are as high as they have been then they have no choice but to keep everything closed.”

Nicole said the urgency of precautions is certainly being communicated. All TV channels carry a message every five minutes that this is a serious problem and the steps being taken are absolutely necessary. People are able to go get groceries as long as they carry a form from the government stating their reason for being outside. The number of people in the store at any given time it being closely controlled, and only one person per household is allowed in. At no time are children able to enter the supermarket. The measures have resulted in better access to basic necessities. “When this was first coming out in the news, people were rushing and clearing out shelves like I see is now being done in other parts of the world. But I can assure you that the shelves are now fully stocked again,” she said.

Nicole says the biggest concern is the capacity of hospitals and the number of patients that are coming in with respiratory problems. “There just isn’t enough resources or manpower and so many, many more will die from basic lack of care,” she fears. Makeshift hospitals in large empty buildings are trying to absorb the influx of patients, and some help has arrived including a group of Chinese doctors and coronavirus specialists, and money is coming in to get equipment in the hands of health professionals. “There are many stories from the front lines of hospital workers telling us or showing us in photos or video how bad it really is on the inside,” she said. Although there is little citizens can do, they are trying to uplift those in the fight. “They are worked to the bone and often there will be encouragements from flash mobs of clapping to show our support,” Nicole said.

Being on complete lockdown has changed the way of life in Italy but people are creative in making adaptions. “In Italy we have what is called apertivo where we meet in the evenings for a drink and light snack. Now we are all doing aperochats which are so fun and in reality we are able to connect more with people as there really is nothing else to do.”

Thanks to technology, Nicole is able to stay connected with friends in Italy and has also been keeping in close contact with loved ones back home. “People are reaching out and lending their support and for that I am truly grateful.” She says she is doing well and feels good. “Luckily, I don’t believe that I have been in any way exposed as I have absolutely no symptoms of a cold or the flu. Nor have I first hand experiences of anyone being affected by Coronavirus. Every day I wake up and every hour that passes I am so grateful that I am feeling as good as I am. But it just takes one person that you are exposed to, to change that story.”

To that end, she has advice for Canadians. “This situation is serious and I really hope you all take note of how Italy has handled it. I believe that Canadians are ahead of where we were, as we were one of the first countries to really set an example. Listen to the warnings and stay home as much as possible. This is how we prevent the spread. I know two weeks or a month in quarantine seems like overkill but you may very well just save a life of a person that is weaker than you. It is becoming more aware that this is not just a normal flu and until everyone starts taking it seriously it will continue to be a problem for our country. Take time to just be with your families, read, start a hobby, and connect with people.”

Nicole says she loves to hear from people back home. If you would like to make contact, her email is nicole.hermanson@yahoo.ca.

The Philippines

Vandana Luedtke, daughter of Delwyn and Shelley Luedtke lives and attends nursing school in Manila, Philippines.

The first positive tests came at the end of January and the Philippines is where the first death outside of China occurred. Shortly after, locals started showing up at hospitals feeling ill and tests came back positive for COVID-19.

The Philippine government and Department of Health began issuing statements and raising awareness about transmission, and that is when private institutions and hospitals began enacting quarantine zones. What made the response a bit tougher was that the region had just been through another medical emergency. Vandana said, “The government was still recovering from respond ing to the Taal Volcano crisis which also impacted most of Manila and larger portions of the southern cities.”

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Another change came to the city of Manila where Vandana Luedtke lives. They are now on a complete 24-hour a day lockdown.

It wasn’t until mid-March that more drastic measures were put in place. Schools were given one week to shut down in Metro Manila, as well as all cities in its perimeter. President Duterte met with mayors and formulated a plan to extend a quarantine until April 13. Beginning on March 14 no one was allowed to travel by air, sea or land in or out of Metro Manila, and each mayor enacted a curfew for their city prohibiting anyone moving about late in the evenings.

But the city remains busy. “Honestly, before the curfew hours, there really is no perceptible difference and the city is as busy as ever,” Vandana remarked, “especially during the first few days of quarantine when many wanted to stock up on groceries.” A two-hour line up for supplies was common, and just like in many places around the world, toilet paper and hand sanitizers were in short supply. (Editor’s note: Manila was put on a complete lockdown shortly after this interview.)

Living in quarantine is certainly an unexpected situation, along with the interruption to education. “All the schools, including my university, have followed mayor’s orders and cancelled classes until April 13. The university hospitals are operational as usual, but med and nursing students are told to stay home.”

In looking for silver linings in all this she is spending her time learning to cook new dishes. “I’ve just been having fun learning and cooking new things.” As well, “There’s more time to study because midterms were moved.”

She also has a message for everyone back home and it starts with the importance of hand washing. “Basic hygiene is important and to have a level head instead of panicking.”

Ukraine

Cheryl Lyons, daughter of Loretta and the late Blake Lyons, has lived in Ukraine for almost 17 years.

The first official case of coronavirus was diagnosed there at the end of February, and in the weeks since efforts at containing it have amped up. Border crossing points for air, rail and bus services were shut down and schools have been closed until April 3 but Cheryl is hearing that could be extended. Kyiv, the capital city of Ukraine, is pretty much shut down since schools and all non-essential stores, cafes, restaurants, bars, fitness centers, and the metro system have closed.

Those not heeding the precautions face repercussions. For instance, if students are found milling about in the town of Rzhyshchiv, where she lives, the parents will face fines, and people found guilty of breaking quarantine will be penalized the equivalent of $850 or more Canadian.

Cheryl is not in quarantine but her work has been impacted. “With the schools being shut down, that took care of my English lessons,” she said. “We got word on Tuesday, March 17 from Daniel, Pastor of the church here in Rzhyshchiv who I minister with, that we will no longer be having any official church gatherings and that we will be meeting via technology.”

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Cheryl Lyons lives in Ukraine where school closures have cancelled English classes and changed how her church is able to minister to people. She said, “I have been praying about how to best serve and show God’s love to the people here during these uncertain times.”

Currently, panic shopping has not reached her town so she is able to purchase what is needed, but she said there is reason for concern regarding the capacity of hospitals to deal with what might be coming. “Our little town here is sadly not at all equipped to handle the possibility of what could happen,” she said. “In the larger centers, the medical/healthcare centers are working on preparing for the worst case scenario.  We have good doctors here but the public hospitals definitely lack in equipment that is available in the west.”

Hospitals in Kyiv are not proceeding with what is deemed non-essential treatment and this is hitting close to home for Cheryl’s community. “There is a little boy from our church family here in Rzhyshchiv who was booked to go into hospital on March 26 for a biospy on a growth on his neck. This has of course raised concern for his parents but they are continuing to trust that Timothy is in God’s hands.”

Cheryl’s daily routine is changed now since she has no contact with her ‘kids’ while students are in quarantine. “Since all of my English lessons have been canceled, my schedule is very different. I am working more from home using this extra time to do more personal Bible study and get a head start in preparing for future English lessons and church meetings and responsibilities. I have been praying about how to best serve and show God’s love to the people here during these uncertain times.  For those who have a personal relationship with Jesus, we know that this virus did not come as a surprise to God and in trusting Him, we have a peace beyond our understanding.  (Philippians 4:7)  For those who haven’t chosen to trust Him, fear is a given.”

She has a good internet connection so is able to communicate with family and friends regularly, something that will likely become even more important in the days to come. “As of March 19, my area hasn’t yet felt the full blast of this storm,” she said, “but the predicted wave of uncertainty is sure to arrive and the situation here in Rzhyshchiv will undoubtedly change, sooner rather than later.”

© The Outlook

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