24 March, London, UK

First day of official lockdown
By Charles Haviland

Slight nagging anxieties creep into my slumber and I awake before my alarm rings.  I will go to the office because BBC news journalists are deemed essential workers.  I leave my home in mid-morning for a late shift.  Footfall on underground trains is far reduced but there are still rather too many people for comfort.  I have put on a mask for the journey and huddle into the front corner of the train, looking at the wall, as far as possible from anyone else.  Everyone seems aware of the need to keep – ideally – two metres apart.

At Oxford Circus, Transport for London has put up big signs with graphics telling us to keep our distance.  Fitzrovia and Marylebone are sunny.  Walking the streets is the art of navigating a clear passage sufficiently far from everyone else.  People cooperate, at times muttering a very British “sorry!” if they feel they haven’t left you enough space.  The fine buildings of Langham Place – All Souls Church, Old Broadcasting House – stand proud, almost untroubled by people.

Inside New Broadcasting House, I wonder if the friendly security guards are socially distanced enough.  In my workplace, its Newsroom, in my team at least we are spaced out.  We sit with an empty desk between any two occupied seats – made easier because a portion of us are now working from home, in some cases because of their own or a family member’s health condition.  We have no idea when we will see them next. 

A colleague, Raimo, walks in, his arms full of cartons and cartons of skimmed milk.  “Anyone want some?”  Café Nero, the branch in the courtyard upstairs, is closing for the lockdown and told him that if he wanted one pint he’d have to take twenty.  “You working in the dairy today?” laughs another friend.  There are more quips about food.  “The Langham’s only doing takeaways now!” says Jonathan.  (That’s the extremely posh hotel across the road.)  Yesterday he revealed that one of his local shops had run out of hen’s eggs (panic-buying) but was selling quail’s eggs, so he made an omelette of them.

We work.  We write the World Service news and broadcast news bulletins.  About ninety percent of the subject matter is virus news.  It is grim, relentless, savage.  I am especially troubled today by news of the spiralling crisis in New York City, the nationwide lockdown in India, and the awful toll in Spain – all places where I have beloved friends.  How will Indians get food?  How will they earn money?  How will hospitals in NYC and Madrid cope? 

My afternoon lunchbreak must be spent on a brisk walk as under the new lockdown we are still allowed to exercise.  It is the good fortune of Broadcasting House to be within fifteen minutes of Regents Park which is reached via Portland Place, wide yet quiet.  Today it is sun-drenched, ghostly.  Overnight one major thing has changed.  For many years there have been brave Falun Gong protestors demonstrating, sometimes meditating, opposite the Chinese Embassy.  Now they are gone. 

Keeping at least two metres from any other person is easy, though I avoid the building site where workers are clustered together, the air filled with dust particles and reeking of solder.  At one point two young women are walking towards me, occupying the width of the pavement.  From a distance I gesticulate and they move to one side with good humour.  It is the most beautiful imaginable spring day, sunny, mild, the air gentle.  The park is filled with daffodils and cherry blossom.  It is much less busy yet far from deserted.  I wonder if the coots, the grebes, the geese on the big lake have noticed the downturn.  People are there only in ones and twos as they should be.  I only spot one person who is not on the move and is sunbathing.  The winter mud has at last dried and it is beautiful to leave the path – indeed necessary when most runners approach.  A young couple are jogging very slowly, seemingly to ensure they are seen to be exercising.  A man leads five small dogs – mainly poodles – walking as slowly as can be.

Back at the office the “dance” of keeping two metres apart continues.  “It’s like the opposite of Twister, isn’t it?” jokes Robert, a colleague with a wonderful sense of humour.  He distributes oranges for the sake of our Vitamin C intake.  We keep doing our best on “social distancing”, though at one point the studio managers ask me to keep out of their studio when I’m supposed to be in it.  We are relieved when a colleague who suddenly went home earlier, feeling feverish, gets in touch to say he has no temperature and is fine. 

It is night when I head for home.  By Warren Street station, six or seven people, probably homeless, are gathered much too close together.  But what comfort can they find apart from each other?  They are talking not in English but in … which eastern European language?  I can’t get close enough to tell.

24, March, Chennai, India

By Sowmiya Ashok

A little past 6am, as if I knew he had arrived, I checked my phone to find a video of him intensely chewing his fingers. Into a scary world, my brand-new nephew had landed and there he was focused on his index finger. I watched the video a few times over, then turned around and fell asleep again. He was miles away in a hospital in Cardiff, and I was in my Chennai apartment lying on a pink bedsheet I had washed only the day before. I thought fondly of picking him up and cuddling him.

I spent the morning slowly driving baby cockroaches out of drawers, dusting my collection of National Geographic magazines, and realising that the renovations I had made to my parents’ apartment were ‘too modern’ for its own good. Where would I to store all those vessels that will eventually arrive in a truck from Delhi when this lockdown lets up? Will the truck even arrive?

It was my third day back in my hometown after years of not living here, and I was stuck indoors, alone, for at least the next eleven days. I had surveyed the space to find four good spots for me to read my book this morning and it was only a quarter to ten. There I was excited to delve into the true story of the 1962 Chinese-Indian internment.

The night before I had found a baby picture of my niece that I had propped up next to our fledgling collection of photos. For this permanently long- distance family, maybe I could use this time to put some photos up on the walls? Make this home even if we are all in and out of here? I lugged a very heavy suitcase filled with my mother’s sarees and hauled it up on to a cupboard. “Are you crazy?” my mother shouted at me over the phone.

Our conversations over two decades had been over the phone. This lockdown was no different. But it took away the choice to fly at short notice to be near each other, to welcome the arrival of this little fellow into our lives.

My mother phoned back to say the building association’s secretary had called to ask her about me. “Had I arrived from the US?” Was I, hmm…infected? One of the residents in the building had enquired about me, she said.  I texted a friend about the incident. She replied: “This is going to be the new normal for the next 18 months at least.”

I went back to worrying about the casuarina scaffolding jutting into my bedroom window, that lone mosquito that kept me up the previous night and that squirrel that was playing daredevil by hanging off the window ledge. I used bubble wrap, a cloth and lots of old DHL tape to keep him out. He eyed me from a branch.

I thought about beginning work on my first story as a freelancer but felt crippled by laziness. In another reality, I would have taken a bus to Stanley Medical Hospital and interviewed the families of all the patients. My skills as a spot reporter were useless at this point. I just sat and stared out the window.

I thought about my daily evening walks at the Jahanpanah Forest in Delhi, the old Bengali Uncle I used to pass, who spoke loudly to compensate for his lack of hearing. I thought about playing badminton with my flatmate, watching the TikTok boys dance hip-hop.

After curfew was declared at 6pm in my state of Tamil Nadu, I collected the garbage and walked downstairs to throw it into the giant bin. One of my neighbours was taking a brisk walk around the building. She saw me, panicked and ran home.

I came back home to the child upstairs running up and down like he did all afternoon. The little feet on the concrete going thud, thud till I shouted vaguely at a spot on the ceiling. “ARGH! Stop it!” I read more about Chinese-Indian lives as I ate the dhal I had cooked.

At 8.10pm, I was panicking, I didn’t have a single vegetable in my refrigerator. The Prime Minister had announced a country-wide lockdown for 21 days. I wore a mask and walked out to the end of the street. I passed by three men who all gave me vacant stares. Everything was dead, quiet, dark. I phoned my cousin and asked him to drop some veggies off for me. I texted friends saying I was struggling a bit, living alone. “I’d be happy to see a tomato right now,” I joked.

Half an hour later, my cousin dropped off a yellow saree cloth bag filled with assorted vegetables at my front door. He rang the bell and stood some steps away wearing his bike helmet. “Take care,” he said in Tamil.

I walked into my kitchen to wash the vegetables thoroughly. Instead I sat on my kitchen floor and bawled my eyes out. I noticed a baby cockroach making its way into a drawer. I got back on to my feet, washed the tomatoes and put them away. I was indeed happy to see a tomato.

24 March, Worcestershire, UK

By Rachel Smyth

I wake up to more than 100 messages on our family WhatsApp group. Today was meant to be the day of my brother’s civil partnership. However, overnight the UK has gone into almost complete lockdown. Marriages and other ceremonies have now been stopped by central government. My brother’s fiancé is from Colombia but studying in the UK. His student visa expires in the summer and they were planning to marry beforehand. They are both disappointed that they can’t marry today and also concerned about future implications.

I scroll through the messages on my phone, trying to catch up on my family’s news. At the same time, I also begin searching for an update in the national news on the wider implications for myself and others. Part of me is hugely relieved that the UK is now finally implementing much firmer measures. Another part of me hopes these measures are not too little, too late.

I start to get myself and my daughter ready for the day. Maintaining a routine is important, but it is difficult to explain to my almost 3 year old why we can’t go to our usual groups or see family members.

“Where are we going today, Mummy?”
“We’re staying at home, bubba. There’s still lots of germs around and we need to keep ourselves and other people safe.”
“Will the germs go away soon?”
“I hope so, sweetheart.”

My husband is working from home and has a day full of phone calls. My daughter and I have hushed conversations as her playroom is next to the dining area, where he has set up his laptop. She is keen to help with his “pootering” (computering) but understandably keeps getting frustrated when she’s told Daddy is too busy to play.

My family sets up a Zoom video call so we can catch up properly and console my brother and his fiancé. We had booked them into a local Airbnb for three nights as a wedding gift, but with the continued uncertainty around travel, they have decided to head back to London today. I have some gifts for my brother so I decide to jump in the car with my daughter and drop them on their doorstep. The roads are reassuringly quiet and it is a welcome break to leave our house.

On my way home, I stop at a petrol station to get milk for my sister. I meant to put disposable gloves in my car but forgot. Suddenly I am nervous about touching the entrance door, the fridge and the milk carton itself, as well as interacting with the cashier. Retreating back to the safe bubble of my car, my anxiety lessens. I drop the milk off at the top of my sister’s garden and wave to her, her husband and my nephew who are enjoying the unexpected and much-needed spring sunshine. Their dog bounds up the garden to greet me. I allow myself to touch him, the only physical contact I’ve had in the past 2 weeks with another living thing apart from my husband, daughter and our two dogs.

When I get home it is lunchtime and my husband isn’t in the house. As the dogs are missing too, I assume he’s taken them for a walk. My daughter and I decide to go and find them and the five of us enjoy some exercise and the warm weather. We are lucky to live in a quiet village with fields at the front and rear of our house, so we can get some fresh air and relax without worrying about social distancing. My daughter runs and laughs in the sunshine, occasional splashing in some of the remaining puddles. As I watch her, I switch off momentarily and life feels almost normal. 

24 March, Ballarat, Victoria Australia

By Madhavi Srinivasan Johnson

I watch a video clip of my just born grandson Leo for the tenth time as I sip masala tea, sitting in my home in Ballarat. Images of Leo sent via WhatsApp by my son-in-law. Leo was born in Cardiff on the day the UK entered lockdown. These images are the closest I can come to cuddle him. I do not know when we will actually be able to touch and feel him. My husband and I have cause for celebrating life in this moment of global confusion and panic. We give each other an elbow pump and a pretend high five. We are happy that our daughter and the baby are alright and will be back home soon.

The Premier of the State of Victoria, where Ballarat is located, has announced a locked down. Essential services and supermarkets will be open, but schools and cafes will close from today. We have run out of toilet rolls. We leave for the supermarket and stroll nonchalantly past empty shelves marked toilet paper, alongside a few other lost souls. We maintain social distancing. People do not make eye contact and veer away from each other out of instinct rather than intent. We do not spot a single toilet roll in the first three supermarkets. We are lucky as my husband chances upon a toilet paper pack of 20 in the fourth one. For the next six weeks, we are in the clear, and if we are frugal, they could even last for two more weeks! It is reason enough for another mini-celebration.

In Ballarat, a regional town overshadowed by its proximity to Melbourne, social distancing is easily practised even at ‘normal’ times. Having moved here from New York last year, I have had a hard time adjusting to the town’s quietness. Now, my husband and I are grateful that we are here, as we watch CNN. The virus is in New York City. We lived and commuted within New York City for several years. We used rat-infested and grimy subways and witnessed homeless and mentally ill people wandering the streets of the Big Apple. We wonder what is going to happen to them and the countless immigrants who are the driving force behind the city’s energy and economy. Many of them are undocumented. Who will provide them care if the virus enters them?

My husband defaulted on borrowing a mower from the local community group last week. With the lockdown, we would not be able to go there anytime soon. I am obsessing over the possibility of an overgrown yard. I decide to snip grass in my front yard using a pair of scissors. Desperate times call for desperate measures. I cover a large patch of grass, bent down kneeling on the ground, cropping the green grass back to a certain precise height with my scissors and clearing the area of weeds. I am also trying to enhance my zen this way. I had read that a monk, as a young boy, used to snip grass for hours as punishment for being naughty. Snipping grass had given him ample perspective on life and the time to calm down his hyperactivity.

I take a break after an hour and a half, with a mild feeling of accomplishment and focus!

Our friends David and Julie have messaged and asked us to come to the front of our house. They have been cycling and stop in front of our garage, safely a metre and a half away. We take part in a ‘shouting’ match across our front fence. Julie shares tips on how to grow herbs in our back yard while I share news about baby Leo. David and Robert talk about the Federal government’s economic package in response to the coronavirus. We promise to have a video chat on Zoom once a week. We used to be able to meet them for a coffee, share a hug and a chat, until last week. Julie is diabetic, and Robert has had triple by-pass. Three of the four of us are in our seventies. We decide to err on the side of caution and just wave to each other.

My feeling of aimlessness has reduced somewhat. I prepare dinner, paneer masala, roti, and rice consciously using less of the onions, the paneer, and rice. We don’t know how long this lockdown will last. I reach out for my mobile to watch Leo again. I feel a huge weight of responsibility.

Thoughts of my daughter living alone in Chennai niggle at the back of the head. I have seen the announcement of a lockdown in India and images of people crowding into pharmacies and shops to do panic buying. No one has assured them things will be under control. There is no social distancing. Sitting far away, I see my country going into free-fall. My constant voyage into twitter and news channels is not helping me. I message her and call her for the umpteenth time to find out how she is coping. I counsel myself – she is an adult, she has an extensive network of friends, she is capable of looking after herself.

Over the years, I have accepted that I can never be in the same town as my family for any length of time. Now with the coronavirus, I do not know when I will be able to see them and hug them. Six months? One year? Or until the world finds a vaccine?

I try to wrap my head around this, just as millions of others are doing the world over. It is not only the physical threat of the virus. It is about the psychological danger of an imagined enemy. How can we come to terms with that?

As country after country announces lockdown, I snip grass with a pair of scissors in my garden. I will have to wait for it to grow a few inches before I start again.

24 March, Kolkata, India

By Moinak Dutta

Only two days back, we observed Janata Curfew, a voluntary home quarantine, following the request of our honourable Prime Minister.  Though the lock down was for a day then it was peaceful, by and large. Only at 5pm there was a lot of excitement in our locality – people went to their balconies or terraces and thumped on silver plates or thalis. Some rang bells. Some shouted. The overall atmosphere was no less than jubilant.  

Today, when we learnt that our PM would address the nation on TV at 8 pm we were looking forward to it with a lot of anticipation and apprehension too. In his televised address today, he asked us to observe 21 days lockdown as it seemed to be the necessary step to ‘break the chain’ in the spread of the disease, which has so far affected more than six hundred people in our country, leaving 20 dead. 

The moment we heard the news, we went out to buy necessary groceries and other things from the market and I was simply bowled over by the crowd at our local market. Everyone was in a hurry to procure items as if the end of the world was near and we should all eat a lot before courting death. I was shocked and bewildered. The things I needed for home could not be found in any shop though they were pretty ordinary food items, some packets of puffed rice and noodles.  The lockdown made me realise the possibility of panic buying; it also made me realise how hard it could be if we are pushed to a real emergency.

23 March, Kandy, Sri Lanka

By Thilini Rajapakse

Curfew was lifted at 6am yesterday, so I took Dog for an early morning run.

Dog was surprised but very enthusiastic about this arrangement, after a whole weekend spent forcibly at home. 

There was still a coolness in the air as we both huffed along, with Dog making frequent stops to closely investigate fascinating lamp-posts, and me using those stops as an excuse to take a break. 

Lumbering early-bird vehicles overtook us.  There were a few brisk house-owners near their gates, all busy.  We exchanged nods in passing and a camaraderie – ‘Short curfew break; must rush!’

The run was a little shorter than usual, which disappointed Dog, but I had also to go to the hospital in the morning. 

It was the best-ever Monday morning drive to hospital; no traffic! Even the Gannoruwa roundabout was pristinely clear. 

At the hospital, things felt normal and familiar, though much less crowded with patients compared to a normal Monday.  Last Friday, not everyone wore masks; but now almost all staff, and most patients, were wearing masks of various descriptions – paper, cloth, folded scarves, patterned handkerchiefs – it was as if a weekend under curfew had really brought home the possibility of infection.

In the ward, things were busy as usual. Nurses were giving medication, and a junior doctor was already seeing patients.  Most non-urgent patients had been sent home, and only a few remained in ward.  The nursing officer in-charge bustled up, hand-sanitiser on offer.  All well, she said.  We are coming to work, of course.  Again the sense of camaraderie, and also a sense that this is our job, we will do it

I wondered how the junior doctor was managing her domestic situation. She had family at home – how was she going to get provisions during this brief curfew break, and come to work at same time?   But when asked about the home front, she just said, it’s ok.

Mrs M. was better and ready for discharge.  She was from Mannar and worried about how to get home in this situation.  She was tearfully thankful for getting better, but worried about her children in Mannar.  How do I get home, she repeated, and her mother, who spoke only Tamil, stood by smiling, not following the conversation.

An elderly man had been admitted with features of acute alcohol withdrawal.  He was smiling, very tremulous, orientated, and acknowledged taking a ‘small drink’ now and then.  His son, a neatly dressed young man, hovered anxiously outside.  He is a good man, he said.  He is a man of good standing in the area.  Yes, we have told him to reduce the drinking, but… Shrug. Will he be alright? What do we do now, with curfew and everything?

Everything seemed to be going smoothly, but there was a tension. 

The junior doctor was suddenly worried.  She had seen a patient earlier, who had complained of non-specific body aches.  He had no other warning signs, had seemed ok, and was sent home with medication.  Now she had just realised that the area he came from had a patient diagnosed with corona.

Could he have had contact?”  She asked.  “What should I do? If I go home my parents and children are there…”

Going back to the Consultant Room, I walked in on a heated discussion about the difficulty of getting elderly parents to restrict their movements. Last week I told my mother – give me your list, I will go shopping for you.  And she said, I have always done my groceries, I can do it now! …and there were servants listening too – so how to fight?  So she went.  There were nods of agreement. 

Dog seemed happy when I got back home, and gave me a bright eyed, shall-we-go-for-another-walk look.  Corona-curfew for the next 48 hours, I explained to her, to which she gave me a very dubious, dismissive look and walked away.

Please note patient details have of course been changed to protect confidentiality.

23 March, Loch Fyne, Argyll, Scotland

By Christina Noble

It’s the morning of day 4 ½ of my ‘self-isolation’, on my own. This house, Policy Gate, is 20 metres from the shore of Loch Fyne, a 50 mile long sea loch. There is a stretch of wild garden and woodland behind it. It is over two miles from the village and a mile from the nearest house, along a rough track beside the loch.  I am 77. I live partly here, partly in North London and a bit in India. My son Rahul lives and works in India, my daughter Tara, her husband and two small children live in Winchester. My family has been here at the head of Loch Fyne for a hundred years.  My sister and her grown up children and grandchildren live around here.

I arrived here from London on Friday by train to Glasgow and then on the bus. There were shining streaks of snow on Ben Lomond, the loch so blue and still. Not many people on the bus, sitting well apart.  My neighbour had left my car for me to pick up at the bus stop so he wouldn’t have to meet me. Driving home along the track there was a fat and mottled seal, on the rock by the Black Hut, against the cobalt blue loch.

Tara rang in her lunch hour (she is a teacher). All schools are closed from last night.  She is going to be expected to go to work because the school is to stay open for key workers’ children. 

I walked along to the Ardno point in the evening sun, thin pink light reflecting in the loch.  Very quiet, not much traffic on the far side of the Loch. I had Brussel sprouts with one rasher of bacon and a little grated cheese.  I will have a problem dwelling all the time on what I am going to eat, and eating too much.

They tell us – the Government tells us –  that ‘we are all in this together’ but it doesn’t feel like that.  There is no togetherness possible here at Policy Gate.  Lucy and John came by kindly when they came to feed their sheep, with my shopping, and some of their Golden Wonders and a dozen of their eggs.  But they stood by their car and we talked briefly as I stood up by the rhubarb patch.  It was hardly togetherness.  And there is nothing I can do for anyone or anything, only for myself.

I understand the theory, the need, but there is nothing but negativity: there is nothing in my day that makes me feel I am doing anything for the country or the National Health or anybody.  There is no role for me except ‘don’t do this or that’.

On 1st September 1939, the day after war was declared, my Mother arrived off the sleeper train at the local station. In the book I wrote which documented 100 years of this community, I described how on that first morning of the war my Mother…

“  went straight to join the others at Glen Fyne Lodge.  Then that morning she and  Tasia, Michael, Sisi and the children and nannies,  moved down from The Lodge  back to Ardkinglas; so evacuee families could go to the Lodge.  It was thought that evacuees with mothers would need to use the Lodge and the Bungalow. None of the evacuees were to go to Ardkinglas; it was planned that the big houses were to be kept in case there was a sudden rush of evacuees later, or in case they were to be needed as hospitals or convalescent homes.”

At the time, my mother complained of a numbness, of not being able to think. And how difficult it was living with all these people around.

It was hard for her and I am sure would have been for me too, but she felt that she and others had things they must do and people they had to provide for.  While I have nothing to do except think about myself and my rhubarb patch.

Monday was a slate grey day with an East wind that chilled your bones.  The squirrels must have been hunched up, no sign of them until lunchtime.

It was a steak in tomatoes and cream sauce, and Golden Wonders and curly kale for my lunch. A steak and sauce lunch would taste so much better with someone across the table to share it with. I am so lucky, I am warm and clean, I don’t have money worries. I can wander in my garden and see if the rhubarb has grown and walk along the lochside with the seals and the oyster catchers and the peewits. But there can be no sharing.

I have the 4.30 slot of talking to Rahul and Tara to look forward to and many kind people phone me to ask how I am doing.  At some of the time in the day I have a surge of courage and will power and expectation of getting things done. At others the tears are in freefall again, can’t be stopped.

This evening’s 8.30 news bulletin –  Boris on Lockdown  – he is so hopeless, it’s  pretty much, ‘we will send coronavirus packing, we Brits are so strong, we are all in this together.  But we aren’t. This is not just me self-indulgently moaning, there are people all over the country who have been so alienated for so long, they aren’t going to feel in it together.  Someone somewhere broke into a food bank and stole a 100 toilet rolls. 

I am tired, I’m going to bed.

22 March, Janta curfew, Bombay, India

By Sukhada Tatke

The morning was no different. My chest seemed heavy and clamped. All the space within was compressed. It will pass, I told myself, as I had over the past several weeks, if not months. Just take deep breaths, it will pass.

The morning was different, I realised when I stirred and looked outward. To begin with, there were no vehicular or human sounds. The sky was clear and the air thick with birdsong. No flowers yet on the gulmohar tree but it’s only early summer. In the next room, my mother fiddled with a laptop she didn’t know to use.

“Help me with this, please,” she said when she heard me shuffle around. “I can’t take it anymore. You know how many people died in Italy today? 700!” I showed her how to change the volume on the laptop. A soothing male voice recited the Bhagavad Gita.

A friend messaged just then to ask how the curfewed morning was progressing in my neighbourhood. He had begun his day looking at drongos, crows, parakeets and bright red flowers.

Birds. Everyone spoke of birds throughout the day. I couldn’t see them, but knew something unusual was up with them today. Were they wondering if the world had transformed into a paradise overnight? Just in case I needed a reminder in the future that this had really happened, I recorded 15 seconds of birdsong.

Around noon, another friend called to say she had just finished reading Joan Didion’s book The Year of Magical Thinking. You can tell she really understands grief, my friend said. Is there anyone who does not?

At 4.55 pm, faint, unrecognisable sounds were heard from outside. “Mamma, wake up, it’s begun,” I told my mother.  From the window we watched our neighbours erupt into celebratory clamour. They clapped their hands and they banged their pans. A few days earlier, our prime minister had appealed to the nation to come out on to their balconies at 5pm on the day of the Janta Curfew and cheer those on the frontlines of the pandemic. Downstairs, someone was blowing a conch shell. I asked him to look up so I could make a video but when he did, the spell was broken, and he made false notes.

What is this collective hysteria, I said aloud. My mother asked me not to be a spoilsport. She was right. This mass gathering made me smile. I even allowed myself to laugh heartily for a few minutes. It was the first time in weeks and it felt oddly uplifting. For a few moments, the apocalypse was forgotten. Just in case I needed a reminder in the future that this had really happened, I recorded 15 seconds of conching and clanging. 

The birds went into hiding and were not heard from for the rest of the evening.

Elsewhere in the country, people spilled out in the streets in hordes, beating drums, dancing and chanting “go corona go”. The curfew deadline was still hours away, the virus was still very much in our midst.

We had done it again. Our prime minister had asked us to bend, we had frolicked. This was his power. Why then had he not used it to calm citizens when communal violence had flared up in the country only a few weeks before? 

Gloom settled in my heart again. A totalitarian government, an obsequious citizenry and the death of scientific temper. This was what we had in our arsenal to fight a pandemic. But we also had health workers and grocers and vegetable vendors and cleaners and journalists and others who were putting their lives on the line so that we could maintain a semblance of normalcy in these abnormal times.

In the evening, my mother said she was grateful I was home with her. “I would have gone mad all alone,” she said. “But I think I have also got used to being alone.”

In France, another beloved person was alone. Suddenly, I missed him achingly. As we looked at each other in silence in the white glow of our computer screens, it struck us, my husband and I, that we might actually be staring at a longer and more painful period of distance than we had imagined, with neither of us welcome in the other’s country. But love, we agreed, is greater than viruses and borders.

22 March, Kingston, Jamaica

(19 Confirmed cases)
By Diana McCaulay

Our airports and seaports were closed yesterday for 14 days to incoming passenger traffic. You can still fly out, we’re told, as long as airlines provide flights. Yesterday the British High Commissioner tweeted that the last flight from Kingston to London Gatwick would be on 25 March and there’s an extra flight scheduled for today. The US Embassy is tweeting outgoing flight schedules for its major carriers.

I’m thinking about air travel, a privilege I’ve taken for granted for my entire adult life. Sure, there was the obstacle of cost, but flying has become affordable for billions – a simple Google search reveals 4 billion flew in 2017, according to Forbes Magazine. Many of those would be repeat travellers, of course, but still, flying has become unremarkable. I’m always struck by the people on planes who leave their window blinds down, preferring not to look out at clouds and sky, turning away from the wondrous, glued to small screens.

I’m thinking about what air travel means for a small island nation. We can’t leave our borders by road or rail, and given the ports are also currently closed, nor by boat either. So we’re here. Do I feel stuck? My son lives in London, one sister in Toronto, my oldest friend is in Kendal in the UK, several close friends live in New York, Miami and Seattle, and part of my travel pattern has been to visit them. Now I can’t. Now we Zoom and FaceTime and Facebook messenger and WhatsApp call, and I am grateful for those privileges. I think of my maternal grandmother, whose only son went off to join the Royal Air Force in World War II – she would have not expected a letter for weeks. He died on his first mission and I don’t know how long before she knew, how long she would have hoped he was fine, when he was not.

So, no, I don’t feel stuck. I feel lucky, actually, for my place on a small tropical island with a year-round growing season and strong family and social connections. Jamaica escapes none of the problems of the world, but they’re writ small, on a manageable scale. I’m grateful for that, this morning.