Lockdown Diaries: Surprise, Fear, Acceptance, New Normal

COVID-19: Earliest Known Memory

Sometime in January: pictures of people dying on the streets, crowded hospitals in Wuhan, and a heroic welcome for everyone evacuated from Wuhan started to flood news cycle. Words like ‘quarantine’, ‘incubation period’, ‘recovery rate’, and then ‘Lockdown’ became more visible than before. India, with fewer people’s connection with China than western countries, was not at all in the panic mode.  Post 23rd January, when Wuhan went under lockdown, economists were busy assessing damage to the global economy. Everyone was convinced in the ability of China to contain this virus inside its borders. They were hoping a quick ‘V’ shape economic rebound starting from April 2020 onwards. It just looked like another small scale outbreak. 

Many virologists, epidemiologists were saying otherwise. They highlighted thousands of travelers passed through epicenter city Wuhan, many weeks before the lockdown was announced. Comparisons were quickly drawn between this new virus and 1919’s Spanish flu. From source, symptoms, to mediums of spread; everything was unknown. To get a better understanding, I watched Netflix documentary ‘Pandemic’ and realized that situation is right for a future global pandemic. If not contained, this can be the ‘disease X’, warned by the experts for decades.  

February 2020: This was relatively calm month. After the initial days of the month, small virus clusters started to appear beyond China. Cruise ship stuck in Japan scared me a bit but in India, things were still normal with only 3 returnees from China tested positive. I began interviewing for a position based in Germany and all looked very well. What is the reason to worry?

March 2020: This was the game-changing month. First Iran, then Italy, then Germany, and then entire Europe engulfed into the chaos brought by rising number of cases. Foreign returnees were started to test positive in large numbers in India. Compared to exponential rise of cases in hard-hit countries, cases in India were growing only in double digits. One by one, countries started to closed themselves for outsiders. Cancellation of flights, people violating home-quarantine has started to dominate headlines. WHO (World Health Organization) has declared it ‘pandemic’ and virus is now officially named ‘COVID-19’. Several doomsday predictors have started to appear in talk shows throwing numbers and likely future predictions. It was chaos. Watching the news became painful. 

With world economy gone into tailspin and everyone have started to become scared, South Korea became a beacon of hope. Their aggressive strategy in tackling the virus outbreak gave an assurance that mankind does have hope. Despite very low cases (400+), India too had announced complete lockdown to arrest the spread of this virus. We all went into an unknown future with little past experience of isolating at home for continuous 3 weeks. I read some of the experiences shared by my Italian, Spanish friends and I was very much positive about using 3 weeks into something productive. In short, I was ready for this isolation period.  

1st week: Fear & Anxiety

On the very first day of lockdown, I started to feel headache, sore throat, and coughing a bit. With a lot of information about COVID-19 accumulated in my head, I feared the worst. Despite being an optimistic individual, this fear was real. Steve Jobs famous Stanford Speech related to ‘life is short’ started to made sense. Am I going to die soon? I started to write some of the things to my friends, family members towards any such eventuality. Despite scared, available statistics favoring young people, gave a slight relief. 

Despite living just 10 minutes walk from a hospital, I was unable to walk there. What if I tested positive? What if they ask me to immediately admit? Will I get a chance to say good-bye to my parents? Will I get a chance to re-live my dreams? My head was spinning around with all sorts of thoughts. 

With no running fever and no issues in breathing, I decide to seek a medical opinion instead of going crazy. Since the start of this outbreak, I have began following many doctors on Twitter to get a better sense of ground situation. One of them was offering e-mail consultation to people with any kind of symptoms related to COVID-19. It did not harm to consult someone on e-mail before rushing to the hospital.

Internet search gave me all kind of symptoms of COVID-19 or related diseases. I arranged those symptoms in a table and write yes/no next to each of them as per my health condition. Along with this table, my medical history, age, gender, and similar infections in the past were also mentioned in the e-mail, to give, the doctor a better picture. I eagerly waited whole night to check his reply the next morning. His response gave me a new lease of life after 48 hours of agonizing mental pain. He suspected normal flu, which I keep getting during this time of year due to changing weather patterns. Gargling, hot water bath, and normal routine were his suggestions. He also suggested to take medicine for cold should it become difficult to carry out things. Any sign of fever, breathlessness requires a visit to the hospital.

Using his prescriptions strictly,I recovered within 2 days. But recovery was not enough, it was the time to come with terms with the unknown fear. I devoted myself totally to survive this time than doing anything else. Each person in my friend circle were sharing tips to learn new skills, taking an online course but my mind was totally shifted on survival. How best to stay healthy (physically & mentally) was my plan. I found 2 people through Twitter with isolation experiences. One of them stayed in isolation in Wuhan for over a month. Their suggestions helped me to chart my plan for coming days.

2nd & 3rd week: Acceptance

Streets took deserted look. Barricades were put up in localities to prevent any unauthorized entry. Wearing masks, maintaining a safe distance during essential shopping became a new normal. With parks closed for any activity, my terrace became jogging, exercising, and relaxing arena. Everyone in my vicinity was doing exactly the same. ‘Terrace Walks’ , ‘Terrace meetings’ with neighbors became a new routine. With no traffic on the roads, there was an eerie silence in the air.  Fresh air, clear skies, waking up at 5 AM, listening to chirping of birds, and cooking for myself became a new normal.  Soon, my counting fixated on ‘Lockdown day number’ rather than day or date. Initially announced for 3 weeks, lockdown has been further extended for 2 more weeks.

4th, 5th, 6th , 7th, 8th week: New Normal

As India entered into 2nd phase of lockdown, I  have already become well-versed with the reality of staying inside. Until vaccine comes our or we somehow control this outbreak, we need to continue living like this. The number of confirmed cases have continued to rise all across the world, through hot-spot geographies continue to change on weekly basis. Global economy has collapsed and it is definitely going to affect my professional life in a short period of time. Personally, staying alive and surviving this outbreak has become my motto and these weeks passed without any troubles.

9th-week on-wards: Looking Forward

After being suspended for 2 months, flights and some train services have been restored from 9th week onwards. My cooking has improved significantly and I have realized the importance of living in the moment. Future is uncertain, economy has collapsed, and there may be many more surprises in store for us in 2020. I am alive, healthy, became more fearless, and found my own peace in the chaos. With new reality sunk in, I am optimistically looking forward to the future. That is what matters most. 

At the time of writing this post, India has been under lockdown for 82 days. Many relaxations in non-containment zones have brought a sense of normalcy. Traffic has been back on the roads but virus has not gone anywhere. From mere 400 cases at the start of the lockdown, India has more than 320,000 confirmed cases . That place us 4th hardest-hit countries in the world. Despite raging debate of whether lockdown has worked or not, it did help many people to change their habits and look at life from a different perspective. Hopefully, such changing habits and perspectives will sustain for the rest of the period to see safer and better 2020.  

Thanks for reading this post. Stay safe people!! We all are together in this.  

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