Sunday, March 15, 2020

Corona virus - Diaries of life in SouthWest France

Worldwide, we are all in this together.  As we watch country by country deal with this virus, I have decided to share and document our experiences.  I welcome comments and experiences from others.  We are a worldwide community dealing with this pandemic - my hope in sharing is to help others to know - you are not alone - we are all in this together and we will get through it together.

Part One - The Beginning

It's now March 14 and for the past month we have been watching the Corona virus travel from China across the world.  Initially, it was easy to watch from a far, easy to think, it's over's happening elsewhere.  Early on, it was a blip on the radar - something going on far away from us, our daily life.  The world watched as China was engulfed by this virus, more and more cases, some deaths -but this was China - this was far away....we watched as China went into lock-down and how they built hospitals to deal with the ill.  It was easier then, easier to believe that it was far away, far from us.  

But as we watched, the virus traveled, traveled with the people who carried it - we live in a global economy, international markets, companies that makes things in China...of course people travel both for business and for pleasure.  But we still didn't believe, as we moved into mid-late February and watched new cases being identified in Europe and other countries too - moving closer, hot spots and clusters were identified, restrictions taken, but our life here in France continued.  Meanwhile, I had the benefit of talking with a Chinese friend of mine who explained the virus and it's spread to me.  It's a matter of letting it run it's course.  China had turned a corner, their lock down had worked and things were improving over there.
By early March however, Northern Italy was in lock down and the rest of Italy would follow soon after but again - it's was over there....  

My mother had been visiting us here in France since mid-February through the beginning of March.  We didn't think twice as we boarded a plane to Barcelona, Spain on March 2 for a 4 day trip.  Yes, cases were popping up here and there - a few in Northern France, a few in the Eastern France, Germany, and even in Spain....but again not too many and not enough to truly worry us.  Even though, now I was beginning to realize that it would affect us, but I still didn't truly believe or accept that the coronavirus would challenge our lives here in France, like it had for China and Italy.

By the time we returned from Barcelona on March 6, things were moving faster.  Even though, our flight was full from Barcelona to Bordeaux, people seemed more aware. I remember observing in the airport bathroom, everyone taking a little longer to soap and lather their hands.  More cases were being identified, not only in France but all over Europe and in the United States.  There was more talk, more rumor of what was to come.  As scheduled, my mother flew home to the States early on March 10 - ironically the day before President Trump made his sudden announcement that all planes were not welcome from Europe. Only to be clarified that it didn't mean Americans returning home but Europeans.  However, the implication is simple, less people means less planes.

During this week, as each day passed, the number of identified cases grew in France - some cases more serious, others not so serious but in any case it had arrived.  Reality was upon us - Corona virus was affecting France too.  Affecting us directly.

I think often we like to live in a bubble, a place where we can create our own reality when life begins to go awry.  This is how I felt when I was visiting Barcelona...disconnected, and in my own world.  Enjoying the city, playing tourist - traveling in freedom.  In everyday life, we plan our days and our life around routine (school and work), social plans, and live our life around what we know, what we are used to.  Yes, we take for granted what's available, what's open and our daily routine.  It's life and it's our life.   However, as I write this post, it is Saturday and we are now forced to begin a different reality.

French President Macron addressed the nation on Thursday night March 12 and very calmly and clearly laid out a plan.  Here is a link to an English dubbed version of his speech.

 Televised Address - President Macron - Corona virus Pandemic - March 12 2020

The following are  highlights of his address to the country, which focused  on thanking the health care workers, listening to and following the advice of scientific experts, and calling on the nation to work together in specific ways to protect the most vulnerable in our country. There is a lack of detail on some more economic issues, but the plans are being developed now.

1) Anyone over 70, those suffering from chronic disease, and other vulnerable persons should stay quarantined, and others should help them get groceries, etc. but with limited contact.
2) Local elections will continue. (We received notices from our towns about how to come and vote in safety -- for example, bring your own pens! Sounds silly, but one less thing to touch and share with others -- social distancing)
3) All schools closed because the young are the most likely to stay healthy but become vectors of the virus and carry it to the more vulnerable.
4) Daycare centers will be set up to help workers with childcare.
5) Workers should be allowed to work from home if possible.
6) Public Transport will continue but asking people to travel only when absolutely necessary.
7) Asking recently retired health workers and those in medical school to volunteer in hospitals.
8] Non-essential surgeries, etc. should be suspended.
9) No evictions will be allowed for the following 2 months.
10) A partial unemployment plan will be put in place to help compensate employees who have to stay home.
11) Free-lancers will also be protected (no details, but at least he mentioned it).
12) Taxes suspended for companies until the end of March.
13) France will work in concert with all European governments to protect the EU and French economy.
14) G7 should also work together.
15) Working together is primary, including avoiding nationalistic tendencies.
16) Market influences should not affect health, food, and living standards.
It is time to protect our fellow citizens without falling into panic and fear.

Given all of that, and his implicit encouragement to be responsible citizens and only venture out of our homes when necessary.  Protect ourselves and our fellow citizens. - we are essentially housebound - trying as a nation to slow the spread & progress of this virus.  

My oldest daughter who attends University in Paris is on her way home tonight.  Distant learning begins on Monday for my daughters in middle school and high school.  We are living in unknown territory, a new reality.

Yesterday and today we filled the pantry and the refrigerator (note the word fill, not overstock).  Stores are still open here - and at this point, the President wants to preserve as much of the economy as possible, so there is no need to over buy or over-stock.  Many towns are trying to maintain their weekly markets at this point.  However, as I observed over the past couple of days - people here were buying pasta, toilet paper and canned goods.  Certain areas seemed to panic more than others.  Here in Bordeaux, there were a lot of people out, but not unusually long lines and ever though it seemed to be a steady flow of people, not crazy.  The cashiers and store workers seemed a bit surprised and were muttering to some  "Calm down people, it's not the War".  The point also is to eventually be home more - so I hope that more and more people heed the advice of the President and stay home as much as possible.

Yes, being on "semi-lock down" is going to be an experience for all of us.  We are a family and a society that goes out - socializes and enjoys our beautiful dynamic city.  For each one of us, it will mean some sacrifices and adjustment.
For me, after my Winter hiatus when there is little tourist work and where I am home more, it's an extension of that but with more forced time home.  No lunches out with friends, no networking times over cups of coffee or glasses of wine.  At this point, I can continue to exercise at my small private swim club, but I'm not sure how long that will continue.  My work as a tour guide has been completely postponed until at least May...understandable but definitely financially challenging.  In the coming days I will need to re-budget and re-look at my costs.  My main role will be mainly as a mother with all the girls home - organizer of the new routine, supporting and assisting them in their schoolwork, meals and along with many other things.... Like all of us mothers,  I will be the one to lower their stress, invent new activities and lead and navigate them through these times.  

The girls being home indefinitely adds a whole other dimension.  They are not a all use to being home all the time.  As Universities are closed too, my oldest has returned from Paris.  All girls will be on distance learning - from the National French education system, supplemented by work from their teachers.  This is not vacation - it's just school from home.  Obviously, new routines will need to be put in place and it will be me who will help them structure this.  I'm not too worried about my oldest daughter, being a University student - she's totally independent and knows what she needs to do.   She's arriving home tonight.

My middle daughter in high school is also very independent with her work.  Her high school is a bit slower in organizing her program but I know it will be clearer in a couple days.  As of Friday afternoon, it was communicated that teachers will be in touch with their students via ProNote (our school's online- agenda/grades/communication program).  I know she will do what needs to be done.
It's my youngest - my daughter in 5eme (7th grade) that will need the structure.  Her middle school has already communicated the links for distance learning - so we can set up her account - and teachers will also be in touch.  This is all new to us.  Parts of Northern and Eastern France have already been on distance learning for the past couple weeks and via my Facebook groups, I'm hearing that there is a lot of work.  Students are kept busy 4-6 hours/day.   I'm sure we will all feel cabin fever, it's just a matter of time.

So we will see.  In any case, our lives are changing....
So we are finishing our final weekend before our new routines begin. It's almost Spring here - but we have been enjoying Spring like weather for the past few weeks.  We are able to get outside to walk or to ride our bikes, but alone.  Hopefully the nicer weather arriving will help our moods and allow us to venture out in nature a bit.

Update - as of last evening - the First Minister has announced that as of Midnight - Sunday March 15 - All shops, restaurants, cafe and entertainment facilities will be closed.  Non-essential stores People should be staying in their homes as much as possible as the spread of corona virus is accelerating.  Movement needs to be limited.

Exceptions are food stores, pharmacies, banks and gas stations.  Now it's serious - lock down.  
I hope to continue sharing our experiences through this crisis period, knowing we are not the only ones but we are all in this together - in solidarity, in brotherhood, in sisterhood and in community.  Thoughts to everyone - stay healthy and safe.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for reading and visiting my blog. Feel free to leave a comment - I love hearing from people!

Popular Posts