Actualizado: 21 de abr de 2020
It's funny how far things seem when you live in a bubble of comfort and privilege. When the ebola virus broke out in 2014, no one cared. Let's be honest, I mean it was all the way in Africa! It could never touch us right? I still remember laughing when my poor sister, smart as a tack, text my mom and me to warn us about social distancing, avoiding public gatherings, washing our hands... And in this case, we're talking about a disease that is much harder to transmit by comparison. Well, it did touch us actually. It spread across three countries outside Africa. Madrid nearly locked down because of it. And still, I laughed at my sister's warnings.
How about the SARS outbreak in 2002? That was all the way in Asia! It could never have reach us! Well it did too, in a much smaller degree of course but there were over 8000 cases across 28 countries, including Europe. And finally the corona virus in 2019. Even though it spread like wildfire across the continent, still no one paid attention. I mean, Asia is so far away, right?
Then suddenly, Italy is on lockdown. Then Spain, France, and soon the whole world is taking action. How did that happen? It is simply that, no matter how much organisations do to warn us, we never seem to take anything seriously until it affects every single one of us directly. This has resulted in the loss of at least over 140, 000 people (as of today, April 16), in just four months. Those who haven't been affected by the loss of a friend or family member have been affected in other ways; millions of people are unemployed, cannot see family members and have struggled to find enough food for their family for a couple of weeks.
Today, I've decided to use the next few weeks of lockdown to reflect on everything that's going on. And I want to begin with the very first day the realisation of what had just arrived in the UK, of the magnitude of this epidemic, finally hit me. It was exactly a month ago, on Wednesday March 16th.
London was at its peak of panic buying. Toilet paper was a good almost as precious as a bright red, juicy, Spanish tomato for a fresh salad and shelves of poultry and meat were being emptied into suitcases by selfish ignorants. (This is real: my partner, who never puts a toe out of line in public, cursed all sorts of French profanities at a couple in Tescos who explained this action with a "The world is ending, we need to eat".)
I'd been going into work as normal on the DLR, feeling calm, reading on my commute all the way to my office door as usual. I'd been sleeping well, eating well and encouraging my teams in the best way possible; listening to their concerns, feeding back information from our business and the government and giving extra breaks to help cope with the growing anxiety.
I was fine until my mother, who lives in Madrid, called to say the city was shutting down. In one day, my entire family was on lockdown. Leaving the house more than one person at a time for any reason that isn't essential activity can cost you around €1000. All of the sudden, something that seemed so distant had just showed up on my family's door step. My parents and relatives couldn't go to work, my friends were struggling to adjust to the routine of working from home, and millions of people had lost their jobs. It hit me then, this is happening, this is serious.
I think it all started on that Monday, a full week before my business took the heartbreaking decision to close its doors to its people, that is, its visitors, staff and residents. All other cultural institutions had closed the week before and yet here we were, at the foot of the cannon, as we say in Spanish, ready to do our jobs as the palace begun to empty. We kept giving the best of service, supporting anyone who walked through the door and holding a smile.
Naturally, my friends and relatives questioned the reasoning behind keeping our doors open. That we were being exposed for no reason. I guess working in a front of house position, yes, myself and my colleagues were more exposed than people in other roles. But the truth is that we were not more exposed than doctors and nurses. And some argued, "Yes, but that is their job". Alright, then let's talk about all the front of house staff who are still working, and who didn't get protective gear until the epidemic was well spread across the city of London. Teams working in supermarkets, off license shops... Teams cleaning hospital wards, care homes, public spaces including those supermarkets which become the melting pots for all those carriers who did not know they were a danger to anyone even though they had no symptoms.
When I got home, my partner told me that his parents had driven away from their home in the outskirts of Mayenne, a small village in the north of France. His brother, a professional cyclist, was back home indefinitely, and his friends were all working from home. As for us? We were still going to work, leading a normal life. It was a scary world, but we hadn't noticed it until then.
We tried not to let the panic build. Our families were safe now because they couldn't get exposed anymore, they didn't have any symptoms and we still had a job to go to. Our parents are self employed and struggle to develop business, and thousands of others were unemployed from one day to the next. We still had jobs, therefore we still had a responsibility. I was even going to start a new job in April in a communications agency and they were sure they were ready for me to start, even if it was remotely.
But then the doubts began to fill us. The next day, eight people were fired from my partners' company, a really low number compared to other businesses, but warnings of another wave potentially arriving at the end of March if business didn't improve. Anxiety built like crazy inside us, to the point where we struggled to sleep or find any sort of stability. I worried for my partner, who changes at Bank station and is always packed with people. I kept my phone on me consistently to be in touch with my family. Long periods without any texts from them threw me into a frenzy and, because I didn't want to scare my staff, I locked myself in the office to breath. My best friend, who lives alone, was telling me that she would spend her quarantine in her flat. I was scared for my partner, my loved ones, my staff, my colleagues. More than anything, I was scared of the not-knowing.
Then things started to take a straight course. My partner was guaranteed his role was in no danger. My friend managed to travel back home to spend the lockdown with her family. I was able to withdraw my resignation, something I will always be grateful for. My colleagues were there for me when I was at my breaking point, and our department directors and managers, who could easily have worked from home, were visiting us in our front of line roles to support us. And soon, we were called into a meeting to tell us that the business was shutting its doors to protect us. I've never felt more unity in this company than I did at this moment, despite the anxiety that was knotting my stomach. I will never, ever forget that.
Yes, they were extremely scary times but I have seen, and continue to see, the best come out of so many people. I knew then that we were going to be ok. Because we are together, we are safe, we are home. #pandemic