Emerging from the Great Lockdown

How Countries Around the World are Easing Restrictions Imposed to Contain the Spread of COVID-19

It seems like Covid-19 has invaded our lives and changed them forever. 2020 has definitely been a tough and tragic year so far, and the months ahead are yet filled with uncertainty. COVID-19 has hit Europe and North America the hardest millions of people were infected and thousands of people lost loved ones to this deadly virus while hospitals and staff were overwhelmed by the huge demand to assist patients who struggled with their agonising symptoms. It’s undeniable that the medical field brawled to cope with this grave situation by providing the necessary personal protective equipment to keep first responders, doctors, nurses, ICU nurses, and other vital workers safe, leading to PPE shortages in many countries such as the USA, Spain, and Italy. This has vividly shown how the world was definitely not prepared for a devastating pandemic on such scale.

As the number of infected individuals began to decline in many countries, governments began easing lockdowns to save the economy and guide people into resuming their daily routine in the safest possible manner. Few questions linger: How harsh was lockdown in some countries? How are some nations emerging out of lockdown?

Lockdown varied from one place to another depending on each country’s strategical response to Covid-19. In Quebec, Canada, having more than 44,000 confirmed cases so far, lockdown measures were not strict although some people believe they should have been. There was no curfew, and people were able to go out and practice sports while maintaining a 2-metre distance. All restaurants were closed, but deliveries were available, and Uber Eat and similar applications offered their services for free to encourage people to stay at home.
Also, people were told to work from home if possible. Ibrahim who is a construction worker spoke to Majalla explaining that all construction sites were closed until May 11. Before he resumed work, he stayed at home and was able to adjust to the situation quite well by spending some of his time gaming with his friends. He avoided meeting his sister who doesn’t live in the same household until she was confined indoors for 15 consecutive days.

The Canadian government offered around $2000 per month for people who lost their jobs due to the pandemic, but it was criticized by some people who believed that officials should have provided more adequate assistance to Quebec’s vulnerable seniors during the lockdown.

Just like in Canada, Switzerland also enforced a lockdown which began on March 13 until May 11. During this period, people were allowed to go out, but businesses, shopping centres, and restaurants were closed. Starting May 11, life gradually shifted to a “new” norm, and restaurants filled up with customers again with tables being distanced according to suggested regulations, but there were no specific restrictions applied on individuals seated on the same table. Shops are required to provide hand sanitizers at the entrance and are restricted to allow 1 customer per 10m2, meaning there is a limited number of customers allowed depending on the shop’s size. Omar who has been living in Lugano, Switzerland for many years and works in the jewellery business told Majalla that his shop can accommodate 1 individual at a time following the recommended regulations while shopping centres that obviously cover more space installed screens at the entrance displaying their capacity. These screens serve as stop signs to customers: when the screen displays a red signal, an individual should wait at the door. Once the screen turns green, a customer may enter.

Denmark is another European country that implemented a moderate lockdown. The public sector, schools, nurseries, and restaurants were closed while supermarkets, small shops, and doctors’ clinics remained open. Dentists only opened their clinics for emergencies, and people who can work from home were asked to do so. However, lockdown measures were loosened in May, and shopping centres reopened with recommended guidelines regarding social distancing. Floors were marked with arrows segregating people depending on the direction they’re heading towards to avoid cramming. This week, restaurants resumed their businesses as usual, and it is possible for funfairs to reopen next week.

In the U.K, England generally and London specifically were hit hardest by this deadly virus, claiming the lives of thousands of people. But now, with an easing of lockdown, people are taking advantage of the brilliantly sunny weather and spending their time in open areas such as parks. Shops are also gradually reopening, and schools have cautiously welcomed reception, year 1, and year 6 students by limiting the number of pupils per class to maintain social distancing. The school administration is leaving the decision up to parents to send their children back to school.

Germany is said to be one of the best responders to this pandemic providing rapid and mass testing of individuals to control the spread of the virus. The country has emerged from lockdown while maintaining social distancing. For example, two individuals are allowed in one vehicle, and people wear mandatory masks and are asked to use sanitizers frequently in supermarkets. Thomas who works at a tissue paper production company said that workers are not forced to wear face masks, and life seems to be going back to normal. He added that at the beginning of the crisis, it was stressful to see people hoarding cleaning products, tissue papers and other items, but it took them a few days to calm down and abandon this so-called “trend”.

Moving towards the Middle East, Lebanon, with 961 reported cases of Corona Virus so far, initially began with a somewhat strict lockdown on March 15th. Universities and schools were closed, official exams were cancelled, and classes were continued online. Malls, shops, churches, mosques, and other places of worship were all closed while pharmacies, supermarkets, and bakeries remained open, and people were only allowed to go out for necessities. Moreover, mass gatherings were banned and a strict curfew was implemented from 7pm till 5am. As the cases of Covid-19 shrunk near the beginning of April, the lockdown was slightly eased by pushing the curfew to 8pm and allowing Friday prayer and Sunday Mass in mosques and churches respectively. Also, officials permitted cars with license plates ending with odd digits on the streets on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays while the ones ending with even numbers were out on the three other days, keeping Sunday with no cars at all.

On the May 4, Lebanese officials announced that very few or potentially no new cases of Coronavirus patients were recorded for the past 4 days which led to further easing of lockdown. Some flights carrying stranded Lebanese citizens were evacuated from other virus-struck countries and brought into Lebanon, most shops reopened, and the curfew was pushed further an hour. However, these measures have worryingly escalated matters once again causing confusion and concern among Lebanese officials, the Emergency Committee, and citizens due to the sharp rise of new Covid-19 infections in different parts of the country. As a result, officials implemented a harshly abrupt lockdown on May 14th for four days to investigate the origins of those new cases. The issue that is questionable is the fact that the government decided to ease the lockdown after those 4 days opening shops, businesses, and beaches- banning swimming in the sea- despite the gradual rise of newly infected cases. The streets that seemed almost haunted for many days are now bustling with people. Is the government solely depending on the awareness and alertness of the Lebanese citizens?

The UAE, with more than 25,000 reported cases of Covid-19 and over 200 reported deaths, has been bravely battling the virus offering a large amount of testing among citizens, bringing back stranded nationals abroad, and helping neighbouring countries tackle this deadly virus by providing the necessary protective equipment to those in need. The easing the lockdown was done very cautiously to restrict any further spread without risking economic setbacks at the same time. Shopping centres are in business offering a maximum number of clients per shop to maintain social distancing. People should wear face masks in supermarkets and other places, and a curfew from 8pm till 6am has been implemented.

Whether some countries enforced rather strict or moderate lockdown, the aim was always to ensure the safety of citizens with the least possible damages. However, it looks like our lives have already been altered for what seems like forever, and it is suspected to remain as such for many months or perhaps years ahead. For the time being, the adequate thing to do is large-scale testing of people, and our only salvation is a viable vaccine or a life-saving cure.