‘The excitement has been such a boost!’ Irish abroad emerge from Covid-19 lockdown

Irish people in Spain, Dubai, France, Malaysia and Italy are seeing restrictions eased

As some countries begin to lift restrictions and emerge from lockdown, we invited readers around the world to tell us about their experiences this week. Here's a selection of the responses we received; for more, see irishtimes.com/abroad.

Louise Greally, Cadiz, Spain

We went from “nothing to worry about, we’ve a great hospital system” to lockdown “alarm state” within three days. My five- and eight-year-old children could not leave our apartment. We’ve no garden or balcony. My husband and I could only go out for necessities.

After four weeks I was so upset for my children not having fresh air that I asked our neighbours that we share a front door with was it okay if our kids hung out there for a few minutes. It's been hard. The kids have been great, though, moaning more about us making them do PE with Joe Wicks than not going outside.

Since last Sunday, after seven weeks, our children have been allowed outside with one adult for an hour each day. The excitement has given us such a boost. We live beside the beach so we’ve been there every day. From Monday, assuming numbers stay “low”, people will be allowed outside to exercise and some restaurants can open for takeaway.


Peter Ennis, Auckland, New Zealand

Auckland took tentative steps out of “level-four lockdown” after 33 days on Tuesday. Auckland is often derided by the rest of the country for being too fond of life’s comforts. When there are earthquakes elsewhere in the country, social media takes the mickey, suggesting the shake might have spilled our flat whites. So it was somewhat stereotypical that the highpoint of lockdown ending for many here was a coffee run, or an expedition to queue up at the reopened local Macca’s (McDonald’s) drive-through, which had a 1km queue at 11am.

I am amazed, grateful and deeply thankful that good, strong compassionate leadership here in New Zealand has spared us the awful tragedies that have blighted other countries.

John Ryan, Kunming, China

With some trepidation, I flew back to Kunming, where I work in an international school, from my holiday in Thailand in February. At that time there were entry restrictions in place at all apartment buildings. We had to have multiple temperature checks and scan QR codes (on the ubiquitous WeChat) before entering the supermarket.

The rates of infection in our province, Yunnan, were very low, so movement was not too restricted. Bars and restaurants were allowed to open, with social distancing, late in March. Teachers returned to school, where we continued with online teaching.

The streets are back to normal with people out shopping, exercising and socialising in large numbers. The vast majority of foreigners, and most Chinese, wear masks. There is an element of suspicion towards us foreigners now, mainly due to the negative influence of Chinese social media. Borders were closed to foreigners on March 28th, yet the view that the virus is being imported is still widespread. Westerners face extra security checks at subway stations, airports and hotels. Hopefully, this will pass.

Marc de Faoite, Malaysia

The last day I was outside was St Patrick's Day. The following day the Malaysian government imposed a strict MCO (Movement Control Order). I see friends in Ireland sharing photos and stories about being outdoors, going for walks. But things are very different here.

Only one person per household is allowed out to shop. Tens of thousands have been arrested or charged for going outside, taking a stroll around their neighbourhood, or jogging in the local park.

The MCO has been strict but it has saved many lives. In a month and a half there have been 100 deaths, only three deaths per million people versus Ireland's 240+. Malaysia also has an excellent healthcare system, well prepared in the wake of the 2003 Sars epidemic.

On Wednesday the government announced some slackening of the rules. In most parts of the country two people per household will be allowed to travel together. Schools will remain closed. Economic sectors will be given priority. People may be allowed out to exercise if they respect physical distancing. This current phase of the MCO is due to end on May 12th.

Danielle Norton, Bangkok, Thailand

Thailand has been in lockdown since mid-March, with malls, gyms, pools, restaurants and bars closed. Restaurants remain open for takeaway and delivery. At the beginning of April, all parks and national parks closed, and most provinces closed their beaches. Since mid-April, there has also been a nationwide curfew from 10pm-4am. Schools won’t resume until July 1st.

Thailand’s economy relies heavily on tourism, and the lockdown has drastically affected a lot of local people.

It has been announced this week that the national curfew will be extended until the end of May, and people are to continue working from home. The alcohol ban will be extended for another month. Gyms, bars, pools and spas will remain closed. Some domestic flights will resume but international flights will not be allowed until at least the end of May.

Elizabeth Lenihan, Turin, Italy

I live with my husband Pietro and nine-year-old daughter Olimpia in Collegno, near Turin. We have been in lockdown in the ski resort of Oulx, where my husband has a residence, since my daughter's mid-term on February 25th.

At the start we were able to hike in the mountains, but in the last month, we have only been able to walk 200 metres from our home. There are many police around; if people are far from their homes they get a €400 fine. We have to wear masks in the bakery or supermarket.

I run my own recruitment agency, Celtic Childcare, for English tutors and au pairs. Right now I am not working, and we don’t get much social assistance here like in Ireland. My company is entitled to claim a €600 tax-free monthly allowance during lockdown.

The government has decided to gradually loosen the national confinement measures on May 4th and May 18th.

Caragh Curran, Dubai

The government was quick to respond to Covid-19. There was widespread community testing, with more than a million tests completed for a population of nine million. Widespread contact tracing is also taking place.

During lockdown, everyone stayed at home except for essential workers. Everything was closed, except supermarkets and medical centres. No one was allowed out between 8pm and 6am as all streets, buildings and transport was disinfected nightly. A permit was required to go to the doctor or shopping.

Restrictions have eased now, but people are continuing to stay at home. A maximum of 30 per cent of staff can work from an office. Shops and malls have reopened but with new guidelines. Everyone’s temperature is taken if you go to shops, and masks are mandatory.

A nightly TV programme gives updates on numbers tested, cases positive, recoveries and deaths, benchmarked with other countries. Best practices based on research from scientists internationally explain why measures such as mandatory masks are required. I feel very well informed here. That helps to reassure everyone.

Kit Parle, Perth, Australia

On March 31st, the West Australian border was closed, and travel between regions was no longer permitted. All food, drink and entertainment venues were closed except for takeaways, and alcohol takeaway was limited to one case of beer or three bottles of wine per person, per day. Yes, there were complaints! That rule was the first to be rescinded.

Everyone was urged to stay at home, especially the over-70s. Childcare centres never closed (the federal government, which had previously deemed free childcare to be “communist’’, experienced a rapid ideological conversion in order to free up parents in essential frontline workplaces). Gatherings of no more than two people in public must practise social distancing of 1.5m. Many shops remained open, including hairdressers who were subject to the 1.5m rule, with appointments limited to 30 minutes.

Schools reopened on Tuesday, but no penalties apply if parents choose to keep their child at home and engage in distance learning. Ten people can now gather in public, still subject to the 1.5m rule.

Roisin Geber, Saissac, France

I live in Saissac, a village 15 minutes north of Carcassonne, with my French husband Sebastien and sons Liam (15) and Killian (12). In mid-March, all creches, schools, colleges and lycées were closed, followed by all bars, cafes and restaurants. As both of us work in the restaurant industry, that meant we were at home too until further notice. We can only leave the house for essential shopping, to get medical care, to take care of a vulnerable person or to exercise (1km max and no longer than an hour). An attestation (or sworn statement) has to be filled in every time we go out or we face a fine of €138.

Personally, I’m quite enjoying it. As a family we have never spent so much time together.

May 11th is the start of our “progressive deconfinement”; restrictions will be lifted – but cautiously. Hardest-hit “red zone” regions will have stricter restrictions than “green zones”. Travel will be restricted to 100km. Schools for some students will restart gradually, with obligatory facemasks for older kids and no more than 15 per class.

Bars and restaurants will remain closed until a decision is taken the end of the month on how to safely reopen them, possibly during the second phase from June 2nd. We have been warned that unless the number of new cases remains under 3,000 daily, we are facing lockdown again.

Jamie Duffy, Alicante, Spain

Along with my business partner Owen Desmond, both from Bandon, Co Cork, I co-own Shenanigans Irish Bar in Rojales in a lovely area of Spain’s Costa Blanca. I have a small family, just one little girl, Arya, aged five. Sunday was the first time in six weeks she left the house.

I think the media in Ireland might be getting the wrong end of the stick when they say Spain is emerging from lockdown. It is still far worse than Ireland; only one parent may take their child or children outside, so there are no family outings allowed, yet anyway.

We have no idea when our business will be open or functional again. My wife Ciara has a holiday home rental company, and she currently has no business at all. We are told we will receive an “ERTE”, which is the Spanish government’s aid for businesses forcibly closed due to Covid-19 . My wife received €690 for a month, which is very helpful but not enough to survive. I haven’t seen any money yet.

Loans have been taken out to ensure payment for every staff member and myself. It’s worrying.