27 March, Cincinnati, USA

By Ainsley Cameron

A few nights ago my mother said on the phone “They’re closing the border between Canada and the US soon.”  I heard words coming from my mouth that I never thought I’d say. “Good,” I replied. “They should close the border. They should have closed it already.” I’ve lived abroad for most of my adult life, but I’ve never been faced with a reality in which I’m unable to travel home. I’ve never felt so grounded before. I look around my house, our home for the last two of three years spent in Cincinnati, Ohio, and think that it’s not a bad place to be stuck. There is a decent backyard to run around in, birds in the budding trees, and kind neighbors to speak to from a socially acceptable distance.

Today was spent not fretting about travel, work deadlines, or the disruptions caused to my self-consciously privileged life by this virus, but instead focused on my family. It’s my son’s fourth birthday. The party has been postponed until August and will instead be a 4 years, 4 months, and 6 days party. Presents have been delivered and quickly stashed away. They are wrapped and ready for today’s festivities. So far I’ve channeled the majority of my anxiety towards this one moment. I’ve spent an unhealthy amount of time thinking about ways to salvage this birthday. This singular day sandwiched between so many similar yet insignificant days. These days, weeks, and likely months spent at home will inevitably be some of the kid’s earliest memories, and I wonder how he’ll process that as he gets older. We speak openly about “the germ” and why his preschool is closed. He misses his teachers, playgrounds, petting the neighbour’s dog and his friends. He’s tired of washing his hands but can be encouraged with a little competition “I bet I can make bigger bubbles than you!” I say, scrubbing vigorously. “No no no, look at me, look at these big bubbles!” He wins. He always wins.

We started the day with extra cuddles before breakfast, and then a morning spent creating crafts, reading books and playing outside. A picnic in the yard followed by cupcakes punctuated our midday, and I took a break from smiling and pretending everything was fine while he napped. I needed a chance to breathe. Attempting to appear calm and composed for your child as the realities of a global pandemic wash over you and your life is really quite draining. The afternoon included a videoconference with both sets of grandparents at once to participate in opening the presents. Once the new toys and books proved too great a distraction, I turned the screens to face each other to give the grandparents a chance to catch up among themselves and walked to the kitchen to prepare dinner.

Dinner was hard. My inquisitive, talkative, and stubborn kid whom I adore had a lot of questions about why he couldn’t see his friends and what they were doing and when “the germ” would go away. For a few minutes the kid, his father and I all unconsciously leaned in to the frustration while we cleared the dishes and put the leftover food away. A somber mood descended, even while the early evening sun peaked back out from behind a rain cloud. It’s hard not to settle into each other’s moods. We share so much as a family.

I had one surprise left for this day, and it involved the coordination of our kind neighbours and friends. Earlier in the afternoon I delivered cupcakes to three separate families on our block. I sent texts in advance and ran to place the treats on the front porch of each before retreating to mine. At the appointed time I moved the kid’s small craft table and chair to the front walk. We blew up balloons and tied them to the table and chairs. I brought his cake outside and lit the candle. Three separate groups of people, all standing a respectful distance apart, stood on the sidewalk before our house with their cupcakes and sang a loud and joyful rendition of Happy Birthday. The kid squealed with delight, licked the cake server, and dug in.

26 March, Dubai, UAE

By Vidya Balanchander

Among other things, COVID-19 has compelled me to ask — and answer — a question that has long been the subject of a personal search: If you had to ride out this storm from the safety of ‘home’, what would that place be? For my husband and I, who have families spread out between Chennai and Colombo, Sri Lanka, and who have lived in three countries over the last decade, this question is a complicated one. You could say that my heart is stretched taut over the places where my relationships have roots. 

There are days when I imagine that being in Chennai, sequestered with my parents and available to them should anything happen — the anything is still too dreadful to consider — would give me a degree of comfort. But if the prospect of boarding a flight was frightening a week ago, flight operations have now ceased completely. A familiar memory returns — of feeling marooned. 

On December 3, 2015, over a crackly phone call, my mother told me that the torrential overnight rain in Chennai had caused widespread flooding. “Things look grave,” she said, and before I could respond, the line went cold. As it turned out, the area of Chennai where my family lives, happened to be the worst hit. When the Cooum river nearby burst its banks and engulfed the streets, the violent rush of water collapsed the compound wall of my parents’ apartment block and flooded homes until the second floor. On the third floor, my parents didn’t suffer any material loss but had to survive without electricity and water for nearly ten days.  

For the longest one week of my life, I had no way of reaching my family except through kind-hearted neighbours and volunteers who checked in on them and made sure they had a supply of essentials. In those fraught days, I learned the true meaning of distance — and that even though air travel has seemingly made easy work of it, it remains real and intractable.

I also learned that distance extracts a price from your heart.

Two days ago, just before the pan-India lockdown was announced, I called my 93-year-old grandmother. When my grandfather died, now nearly two decades ago, she made the decision to continue living alone, in the home they built together in the city of Mysore. Over the years, she has steadfastly refused my parents’ entreaties to relocate and live with them. At times, this annoys me — Wouldn’t it be so much easier if she just moved? Why does she insist on spending her sunset years alone?

But that day, when she answered the phone, I steadied my voice so she could allow hers to falter. She wept momentarily, telling me that she had never seen the streets so empty or devoid of sound. Then, just as quickly, she gathered the courage that has kept her whole through the years, and steeled herself for what is to come. “I am praying to Ganesha that a cure is found,” she says, and bereft of the faith that keeps her so deeply anchored, I fervently wish that her prayers bear fruit. 
Today, I will call her again — just to reassure her that I am here, even if I am not there. As always, I will feel a twinge of sadness and a stab of anxiety. Then, I will return to my kitchen, and allow the mechanics of chopping, slicing, stirring and mixing to gently bring my heart back from all the places where it has been travelling today, to the safety of warm stillness.

25 March, Dhaka, Bangladesh (+thinking of Kashmir)

By Sauliha Yaseen

Bangladesh confirmed its first positive case of Covid-19 this month. The deadly virus has reached the borders of this country still struggling with its healthcare facilities but which has done exceptionally well for a young country. This virus in a city that houses more than fifty thousand people per square kilometre could act like a tiny spark in a heap of gunpowder. The tabloids are filled with the grave implications this ‘foreign’ virus would have for the country. Do viruses really have a nationality? Do they carry passports and approach immigration counters trying amicably to address the quasi-hostile immigration officers? Apparently not. Apparently viruses don’t discriminate.

Being a government hospital in a developing country, our hospital caters to three times as many patients as the actual number it is meant for. To make up for the lack of space on the wards, the gallery on the ground floor has been converted to an open-air ward housing all sorts of patients. No distinction. On a fine spring morning, a strange hustle in the gallery-cum-ward derails all the normal activities of the hospital. A suspected Covid patient with a likely history, supposedly symptomatic, has been found in one of the beds beside a hundred or so other patients. This news spreads at the same wild-fire rate as the virus itself. Within hours the entire wing is cleared of people. The overcrowded pathology lab is wiped clean. Only the counter separating the morose technicians from the irascible crowd of patients waiting to handover their samples of blood and urine, remains. The grimy foam mattresses are stacked one over the other in a corner exposing rusty beds they covered. A strange hush descends upon the usually busy building. It is disquieting. In a moment we are transformed from healthcare providers to paranoids. From life savers to a bunch of vulnerable beings searching for a refuge from the unseen. In a matter of moments, there begins the frenzied rummaging for hand-washes, alcohol hand-rubs, surgical masks and whatnot. Doctors, nurses, paramedics throng the washrooms, frantically washing their hands, harrumphing, blowing their noses. A lockdown is imminent.

This tragi-comical scene takes me thousands of miles away to my homeland, a place famous for its beauty and protracted lockdowns; Kashmir, one of the most militarised zones of the world.  A similar frenzy would ensue when the Indian Paramilitary forces would mount their armoured vehicles and impose curfew on a jaded population of Kashmiris. People would resort to panic buying, hoarding, filling up the fuel tanks of their vehicles and storing some extra fuel in cans. The frenzy preceding a lockdown had a festive vibe of its own. People would end up predicting the severity of restrictions and the duration of curfews. And here I was in my workplace experiencing a sort of déjà vu, except this time we weren’t pitted against gun wielding soldiers of an occupying regime. We were up against a virus, a force of nature.

After this wave of nostalgia passes, I am engulfed with guilt. Is this comparison insensitive? Was I being tone-deaf? Here the government is fighting tooth and nail to provide basic facilities to the citizens. Medicines are being restocked. Essential commodities are made available. Schools air online lessons for the students. The government and the people are hand in glove fighting the virus. That is the plan at least.

But what was it like in Kashmir? It isn’t a government-citizen relationship. It is an occupier-occupied connection. We are prisoners in our own homeland. There is no restocking of essential drugs. There are no emergency healthcare services. Recently a young man succumbed to snakebite because he was denied access to a hospital. Our kids do not enjoy a ‘learn-at-home’ experience. Some, as old as 12 or 13 years are languishing in jails under draconian and discriminatory laws.  Internet is a luxury in Kashmir. As I’m writing this, Kashmir reels under the longest internet ban in history, as doctors struggle to download the WHO guidelines to manage this global pandemic. All these discrepancies strike me one by one and I just hope that my people can see this double lockdown through.

25 March, Abuja, Nigeria

By Eloghosa Osunde

I woke up, took a few quiet moments for myself and then got on House Party with F and D. I’d stayed up until 4am talking to A about love and family-making. I stay up most nights, because nights are magical to me. The world is less jarring when it’s quiet and dressed in all black. It resets me. It’s F.’s birthday today and she had me download House Party yesterday. She’s in Lagos, so I can’t see her see her, but thanks to technology, I still do. It’s an odd app I don’t understand, but I do whatever F. says to be honest. We talk about everything from earrings to D-Nice’s Club Quarantine to Asa and James Blake’s live concerts. F got dressed while we talked and I laughed so hard I gave myself a slight headache. Then I went to sleep through the afternoon. I hate afternoons. They’re too loud, too bright, too much.

When I wake back up, it’s what, 4pm? I text F and then continue working on the public playlist I started yesterday to celebrate her birthday. Today has to feel good because it’s hers. Music is one of our languages, but it’s also one of the surest ways for me to rise above anything. I can make anything unreal from inside the thumping heart of a song. I watch the playlist grow under my hands. It’s now ten hours long and it will get longer. Nothing can reach me here. Not fear, not worry, not the news. Two nights ago, I got back home from a long drive to nowhere and put up two new Post Its. One reads, Make New Reals and the other, Commit to Play. My apartment is full of those — bright coloured notes to myself, reminding or instructing. Those two were instructions in yellow and pink, right opposite my bed. This is part of the plan. I obey myself.

Everything is uncertain, everywhere. But where I am, there’s a more specific terror. I’m in Nigeria. There are wonderful things about being Nigerian of course, but due to our chronically corrupt leadership, a staggering percentage of Nigerians live in extreme poverty. It’s the poverty capital of the world, which means that what works for most of the world will not work for us. How is social distancing possible for people whose basic survival depends on how hard they work every day? How does one self-isolate when homes are crowded with people squatting? On Sunday, people were still in church by the hundreds, people are still using public transportation, people will still go to work because it is better to die trying than to die hungry at home. What is at home for most? No money, no light, just time spent waiting. So many people can’t afford to stock up, and even if they could, would it even hold, with unstable electricity? Our president is barely engaging, there is a shortage of test kits and there are apparently only ten ventilators in Abuja. A former vice president’s son tested positive and so did the president’s chief of staff. People in power are hoarding life-saving resources. False information keeps circulating on whatsapp. Something is coming, and it’s a tragic reality to look at head on.

I work in stories, so I make realities for a living. But it’s different when the work is on your mind. I used to be so scared of running mad, of believing things that others couldn’t see. I used to think I needed to keep myself updated or in the know so that I wouldn’t veer off from crucial concerns. Because what is madness, but a dislocation from reality, right? And if you’re someone who dissociates often, you know there can be such a thing as floating too far. There’s such a thing as watching yourself from an angle, as needing to focus on a part of your body hard enough to come back into it, of having to set your bare feet on the ground to wake back up. But real life was why I used float behind myself so often in the first place. Is it still madness if I’m going away from everything with my eyes open? I know many places safer than where we live.

It’s hard to notice that the world is just as painful as it is beautiful, we are both safe and unsafe at the same time, we are powerful but mortal, all plans — even the ones that feel certain — are tentative, time is fiction, urgency is not real, everything we had been told needed to be achieved now now now now, can wait. Not everyone should see or know that for prolonged periods of time. Some minds can’t take it. That’s why I know that through everything happening now, so many of us will need scheduled escapes, mental vacations elsewhere. We will need ways to travel while sitting still.

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.