Europe is now the global centre of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, with Italy the most-affected country after China, and lockdowns and travel bans enforced across many countries. We asked a number of locals (and not-so-locals) to share their experience about what it’s like to live in Europe right now.
Kevin Raub in Bologna, Italy
Kevin is a Lonely Planet writer and travel and entertainment journalist who has lived in Bologna since December 2019. Bologna is in lockdown – people may only leave their homes for absolute necessities (supermarket, pharmacy, doctor, dog walking). Museums, restaurants, bars, cinemas, theatres, libraries, gelaterias, concert venues, stadiums and all other tourist attractions are closed. Supermarkets, bakeries, pharmacies, medical offices and public offices are open. These rules remain in place (at time of writing) until 3 April.
I left for Saudi Arabia on 25 February on Lonely Planet business and things were just starting to go awry in Italy. So much so, I scrambled to try and have LP change my flight to a day earlier as I was no longer confident I could get out on the 25th – a transit strike was looming on top of the coronapocalypse. But the strike was called off and planes were taking off, so I went. I transited through Istanbul – no health checks, no questions – and landed in Riyadh without incident (again, no health checks, no questions). Until my return on 3 March, corona wasn’t on my mind at all (Saudi still had zero cases at that point). Then everything changed. Turkish Airlines cancelled my flight back to Bologna so I had to fly to Innsbruck and take the train into Italy. It was all but empty. Within five days, Italy was in total lockdown. I had upcoming trips to Austria and Rome, both cancelled; I have a flight to the USA on 11 April with my Italian partner, but she can no longer enter the US due to Trump's lockdown. And that's where we are at – in corona limbo, hunkered down hoping for a quick end to this nightmare. But there's pasta – we have plenty of pasta!
Read more: What's it like living in lockdown? Three people in Italy share their stories
AnneMarie McCarthy in Dublin
AnneMarie is a senior editor with Lonely Planet and has been living and working in Dublin for five years. Ireland has closed all schools, colleges, public institutions and pubs, with many restaurants and other businesses voluntarily following suit. For now, people are still free to leave their homes.
It must have been the strangest St Patrick’s Day ever; usually one of the biggest days of the year and the pubs were closed and city streets were empty. Not everyone remained indoors though; the new rules seems to have sparked a new appreciation for the outdoors where it’s still possible to get fresh air and see family or close friends without getting in contact with other people.
On Patrick’s Day I went to Slieve Bloom Mountains and there was plenty of space for everyone on the trails. Looking at other countries in Europe, it’s not impossible that a full lockdown may come in the future, so it’s good to appreciate it while we can.
The response of most people in Ireland has been largely positive; when some people weren’t following social distancing recommendations, people took to social media to demand the government close the pubs to protect those most vulnerable, which they swiftly did. Meanwhile my social media feed is full of people promoting online shopping for local businesses, offering support to those in self-isolation or frontline healthcare workers or just general cheerleading to keep spirits up.
Despite the feeling of spring in the air, I’m trying to practice a bit of hygge, finding comfort and cosiness in spending time indoors. I’m also video-calling my family in Cork, as I know I may not see them for the next few months. Confining my movements has given me a fresh appreciation for the freedom of travel. When I get too stir-crazy I start researching my next trip; I’ve already bookmarked some wonderful destinations and accommodation options in Italy with the hope of visiting when normality returns.
Read more: Lockdowns and travel bans: which countries have COVID-19 restrictions
Isabella Noble in London
Isabella Noble is a freelance travel journalist and has lived in London for 11 years. At the time of writing, the British government had said citizens should avoid offices, social gatherings, pubs, restaurants and bars (but had not ordered them to close), and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) had advised against all non-essential foreign travel for 30 days. The government has told people to work from home wherever possible, and schools are due to close from Friday. If anyone in a household has a fever or persistent cough, the whole household must self-isolate for 14 days. Things are changing day by day, however.
The overarching mood in London seems to be of confusion, with the UK’s approach completely at odds with the strategies of other European countries, and there is a growing sense that the UK has been slow to respond to the pandemic. After initially focusing on containing the outbreak, the British government turned to delaying the virus (and developing herd immunity) but is now focusing on voluntary social distancing – which to many of us feels ludicrous when neighbouring countries are already in full lockdown.
That said, most people I know are voluntarily minimising social contact, and many Londoners have chosen to self-isolate. My partner and I are staying home, popping out only to buy food or go for a run or walk (exercising outdoors is permitted, and parks are open, for now). Yoga videos are keeping us calm in our shoebox-sized (but comfortable!) Hackney flat, as we adjust to working at the kitchen table together for the foreseeable future.
To all the pubs that can survive this; please please hang in there because *my god* we are coming for you once this is over...
— Jessica Elgot is on maternity leave 👶🏻 (@jessicaelgot) March 16, 2020
Yesterday (Tuesday), there were plenty of people out walking and running in Victoria Park, and its café was busy (and had sold out of bread despite upping production). Many people are understandably keen to support small local businesses, and there is a particular growing concern among those I know about the financial effect of the outbreak on self-employed people and others who similarly may be unable to work over the coming months. Both my partner and I have parents living in other countries, and we know it will be a while until we see them again.
But we’re still lucky and, above all, there’s a strong understanding here of the much bigger picture, and a keen desire to protect the most vulnerable Londoners, with communities launching aid initiatives such as shopping or delivering medicines for self-isolating neighbours or fundraising for those who can’t afford to stockpile supplies.
Read more: Ask Tom: Lonely Planet expert answers your pressing travel questions in light of the coronavirus pandemic
John Walton in France
John Walton moved to a small village in central France near Lyon three years ago. Countrywide, most businesses are closed and people are in full lockdown for at least the next 15 days. They must make a sworn written declaration that they are either going to work (if they can’t work remotely), buying necessities, seeking medical assistance, urgently helping family or vulnerable people or looking after children, or exercising themselves or their animals – alone.
As one of the lesser affected areas in France, it feels like people are preparing for what most – but of course not all – expect will be a coming storm. After the presidential address Monday night, almost everything that doesn’t sell food or provide medical services closed Tuesday lunchtime. Friends here have been circulating the link to download and print (or copy out) the official government declaration that everyone has to carry with them if they leave home.
Life is starting to be complicated as government, corporate and human decisions interact. A friend tried to deposit cash and cheques at the post office bank on Tuesday before the closures, but the branch in the village was closed, and the branches in the nearest city aren’t accepting either cash or cheques. Given that most food stores have stopped accepting cash for coronavirus reasons, and cheques are increasingly rare, this is going to be posing a problem, particularly for France’s artisans and older people.
Speaking to the local tree surgeon doing some springtime work on Tuesday, the situation isn’t entirely clear for him either: as someone who works alone, does he need to stop work? Or is he sufficiently isolated halfway up the nearest chestnut tree? One thing’s clear: traffic on the nearest Route Nationale, a key freight route, is even busier than ever as the logistics industry spools up for the crisis. France is mobilised. And it feels like we’ll pull through.
Read more: France offers a moving tribute to COVID-19 frontline heroes
Anita Isalska in Manchester, UK
Freelance writer Anita Isalska is unable to return home to San Francisco after her travels in Europe; she’s waiting out the coronavirus crisis with family in Manchester.
It was meant to be a short break. A sociable weekend in the UK, after I finished researching the Auvergne region for Lonely Planet’s next France guidebook. But now, because of travel restrictions linked to the coronavirus pandemic, I’m looking at a long stay.
I’ve been living in the USA for more than a year, but I was abroad when various travel bans were put into force. Citizens and permanent residents of the USA can still enter the country, but I’m not in either category. As a British citizen travelling from Europe, I’m stranded in spite of my US visa – and I’m leaning heavily on family generosity to see me through.
‘How long you in Manchester for?’ my cousin asks me. But I have no idea. For an undetermined period, I’m back in the city where I haven’t lived since my teens.
‘Well,’ muses my cousin, as I explain my predicament. ‘Least the weather’s nice!’ Smiling grimly, we raise our drinks without clinking our glasses together. It’s a toast suited to the coronavirus era: solidarity at arm’s length.
Manchester’s stoicism and gruff sense of humour are just as I remember them. Members of my family exchange theories on the best booze to fend off the virus. A cashier at the local newsagent teases me for panic-buying chocolate Mini Eggs (hey, two packets is pretty average).
Even Manchester’s statues aren’t taking any chances#COVID19 pic.twitter.com/kRec0pwQI1
— Freddie (@FreddiePye_) March 17, 2020
After a warning address from the prime minister, Boris Johnson, the mood has noticeably darkened. The public are being urged to stay inside but confusion abounds. The strain on the National Health Service is extreme. Normal life is on hold as people formulate strategies for self-quarantine, or murmur worriedly about their inability to self-isolate.
But even as people fill supermarket trolleys with tinned tuna and beans, they seem determined not to let their worry show. There’s a wry smile on the faces of pharmacists and care workers. Banter about football and local gossip take precedence over doom-mongering. I have faith in Manchester.
Read more: Will my airline give me a refund due to the coronavirus?
Anna Kaminski in Andalucía, Spain
Anna Kaminski is a freelance travel writer who’s been living in the village of Cómpeta since early 2019. Andalucía is under lockdown, as is the rest of Spain; supermarkets and pharmacies remain open, schools, universities and non-essential businesses are closed until at least 29 March.
Over the weekend, Spain declared a state of emergency, meaning that the government can enforce rationing, place limits on gatherings and transport, and possibly close its borders. We are under lockdown, and only supposed to leave the house if necessary – to go to the supermarket, the pharmacy, to work. Looks like I’ll be staying in the mountain village of Cómpeta for the foreseeable future.
I was supposed to be going on the road to Wales for Lonely Planet, but travel is currently suspended indefinitely and the Schengen Area is closing its borders to other countries for 30 days. Just as well, really, for me, since I fall into the high-risk group (asthmatic with a history of respiratory illness). I was trying to figure out whether it’s better to travel sooner (if I were to get sick now, there’s more likely to be an available hospital bed than in a few weeks’ time) rather than later, but the decision has been made for me.
In the village, things are quite sedate, compared to elsewhere. The shops are well stocked and no one is panic-buying toilet paper. My local supermarket has done a good job of reassuring people that it won’t run out of supplies:
I have some writing to be getting on with and I’ve got plenty of reading to catch up on. Being in a relatively remote village means that at least I do get out in the fresh air a bit, since my village is on the edge of a national park. It’s sobering to think that I’m far from my family and most of my friends, so I try to keep in touch with them as much as possible via phone and video-calling.
The novel coronavirus (Covid-19) is now a global pandemic. Find out what this means for travelers.