Never in my wildest dreams did I expect one of my experiences as an expat to be this. As of this week, life in Prague is essentially cancelled to stem the spread of the coronavirus. And a similar shutdown is probably coming your way, sooner or later. If you’re curious what it might be like, this is what happens when the coronavirus shuts down your city.
Why would a city have to shut down for an infectious virus?
For reasons related to travel, I had been closely following the coronavirus developments in China since it began to be publicized. I watched in horror as I saw body bags littering waiting rooms of hospitals and officials barricading entire apartment buildings to keep people inside. As a result of those extreme measures, China’s last emergency hospital built for coronavirus patients just closed.
Luckily, the rest of us have the benefit of that knowledge. And time. Which means that companies and governments have been taking swift action so that no region has to get to 80,000 cases before something is done. The good thing about the virus is that it’s pretty easy to stop with good hygiene and social distancing. Social distancing is precisely why major cities and some entire countries around the world are coming to a screeching halt. If it hasn’t happened to you, it probably will soon, either as a preventative measure or as an inevitable reactionary move.
It doesn’t have to be scary if you realize that it’s common sense
A lot of my friends in North America seem kind of bewildered as to why the Czech Republic has ceased all travel in or out of the country and has ordered everything aside from pharmacies and grocery stores to close. As of right now, we only have 150 cases here, so why the extreme measures?
The reason is because we don’t want to be Italy, who did little until it the situation was far worse, and where the medical system is now on the verge of collapse as they report thousands of new infected cases per day. Spain, Germany, and France are en route to being in the same situation. And in about seven days, so will the United States because infectious diseases multiply at an exponential rate. Better to do something than do nothing and hope for a different result.
The only way to stop coronavirus in its tracks is to cut off its ability to spread. Which is why I’m pretty calm about being forcibly trapped in my expat home right now. It’s not “Draconian;” it’s necessary. And sooner or later it will happen everywhere either to avoid a deadly logjam in hospitals or because medical centers are already overwhelmed and there’s no other choice.
City-wide lockdowns happen quickly
Part of the reason for my stern advice against travel is because of how quickly things can change during a pandemic. Just a few days ago, life was operating as normal. Now all buses, trains, and flights in and out of the Czech Republic are cancelled. When the country declared a state of emergency, they announced that all public places like gyms and restaurants would have to be closed by 8 pm starting Friday, March 13. By the morning of Saturday, March 14, all restaurants, cafes, bars, and most stores were ordered closed.
If you’re stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time, this could mean you can’t get home or you’ll spend a lot of money trying to get home before the borders close. If you’re already home, just traveling to and from work, you should probably be prepared with anything you need from the office in case you’re not allowed to return from one day to the next.
Your access to essentials isn’t cut off
People panic buying are creating a lot of stress for everyone else. But a pandemic isn’t like a hurricane, which closes grocery stores and cuts off your access to the outside world. If your city shuts down, you’ll still have access to the things you need. The only thing causing shortages is people panic buying. If everyone would just chill out, you’d realize that even if you’re personally quarantined with illness, you’ll be able to get food. Don’t pretend like you’ve never used InstaCart because you’re too lazy to put on pants. So calm down. The toilet paper will be there tomorrow. There’s no way a government would force grocers to close because there’s no sense in protecting the population from a virus only to starve them to death instead.
Worries about your job are valid but don’t let it eclipse the big picture
Of course we’re all worried about how we’re going to make money during this time. However, this is a situation in which everyone’s safety must take precedence. If we don’t protect the vulnerable, it puts us all in danger. Workplaces will have to adjust, too. Letting you work from home could be a small but necessary price to pay to prevent everyone in the office from getting sick, which could put a stop to business operations altogether. Many companies are being understanding when it comes to time off, whether it’s because your children are now home from school and you have no childcare or because you’re sick. If they’re not, it was probably high time for you find a better job.
Where your company won’t step in, the government should fill in the gap. This is why everyone in the world pays taxes. The money is there. The US government just injected $1.5 trillion into the stock market to alleviate the economic impact, so don’t let any government tell you they can’t provide you paid sick leave or free virus testing. The money exists. If they’re not willing to offer it to you, maybe it’s time to replace your government, too. If all else fails, creditors will have to understand, because they, too, have no choice. If you don’t have the money to pay your bills, there’s nothing you can do. Worrying about it isn’t going to help matters. It’s better to be alive and broke than dead.
The sooner it happens, the more effective it is
Social distancing works because it’s a foolproof way to kill a virus that has no other cure. If all the people who have it remain in isolation, the virus will die with the last person to recover or die. It has no way to spread. The more dire the situation is when a mass shutdown is put in place, the longer things will be shut down because we have to wait for far more people to recover.
No experience in the last four years of living abroad has made me more grateful that I chose to move to the Czech Republic than this one. The panic and uncertainty I felt when reading about the mayhem happening in China has been alleviated by the action I see taking place. I feel the same sense of security hearing that national sports organizations and concert organizers are shutting down events back home in the US. This is what prevents a situation from becoming far worse and far more deadly. So until the number of infected starts to go down, you should be grateful for any measures taken locally to protect people.
A quarantine can be a good thing
What is a shutdown like? Quiet. There’s no one on public transportation and no one in the streets. When you have no cafes or restaurants to go meet friends and no malls to walk around idly in, you might feel inconvenienced or pissed off. Perhaps a better way to look at it is that this will give you a chance to spend more time with the only people who you share all your germs with: your loved ones. Your workplace is closed and you have to spend time with your kids? Good! How often does that happen? People get into debt for far more frivolous reasons than that every day. Take this as an opportunity to do something for yourself and your family (here are some ideas). It might be a little boring, but there’s nothing scary about staying home. If you don’t have a choice, you might as well embrace it.