UK life under lockdown: 'It's the small things'

With nations worldwide now in the thick of lockdown measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic, one British citizen with relatives in China, Naomi Birbeck, relates her experiences adapting to life under quarantine. April 22, 2020
By Naomi Birbeck

Thinking back to the beginning of the year when news broke of a highly infectious virus that was spreading rapidly across Wuhan and China seems like many lifetimes ago. I recall worrying for my brother who lives in Beijing and his girlfriend, frantically exchanging messages making sure they were okay. 

I had visited Beijing last summer and was mesmerized by the synchronized chaos of city life and the bustling streets filled with the aromas of restaurants and food carts. The images I received from my brother of empty streets and closed businesses were a stark contrast to the exciting city in my memory. 

As I went about my daily life in the UK, going to university, visiting the library, and going out to eat with friends, the lockdown situation in China seemed worlds away. However, following the news and seeing how the virus was beginning to sweep across the globe, it became very apparent that I would probably be contending with the same reality someday soon.

On March 23, thatday came. Our prime minister, Boris Johnson, announced the immediate closures of all school institutions, public spaces and restaurants and banned all public gatherings. Despite watching the pandemic play out in other parts of the world, it still felt very surreal. People rushed to supermarkets to stock up on food and essentials, which led to nationwide panic and, strangely, a shortage of toilet paper.

I gathered some belongings and the houseplants from my flat and went to my family home to wait out the pandemic in the company of my parents and pet dog. Seeing other countries in lockdown assured me of one thing — being with family would be a lot easier than being alone.

Now, as the country enters its fourth week of lockdown, the frantic panic from the constant news cycles has subsided as people resign themselves to quarantine measures. I feel as though I have adjusted to this new way of life and started to make the most of all this free time by introducing little changes into my daily routine.

I have always loved reading, so I took the time to organize my bookcase and start working through the untouched novels. I recently read "Girl, Woman, Other" by Bernadine Evaristo, which follows the lives of different women throughout decades of British history. This has provided me with some much-needed escapism. I have even started a little reading circle with friends so we can all keep in touch and feel connected.

I have started taking part in online workout groups and found that my fitness has really improved. One celebrity in the UK, Joe Wicks, has branded himself the country's "PE teacher" and posts online videos everyday in a bid to keep the nation sane and healthy. I have started practicing yoga and meditation for the first time in years, which is something I would never normally have the time or patience for. 

As we are allowed outside for one hour a day, I take the dog on a nice long walk around the local area. I have found this is a nice time to self-reflect and appreciate the beauty in the nature that surrounds me. Watching the different stages of the trees coming into bloom is a wonderful experience that normally passes me by unnoticed. On weekends, I organize different activities with friends and families that we can all do over video call. So far, we have had quiz night and a competition to see who can make the perfect rainbow cake. it is safe to say that I shall not be coming out of quarantine as "baker of the year…"

I have worryingly settled into my new life under lockdown quite easily. I enjoy the new routine and trying out different skills, and I have every intention of continuing this when normality returns (apart from the cake-making). But that is all on a personal scale. My main concerns are on a much larger scale: "What will the state of the nation be? How will the economy recover? What will happen in other parts of the world?"

But for now, all I can do is help stop the spread of the virus by staying at home. One thing this pandemic has confirmed is that an international community does exist. We may have once felt as though we could not see the commonalities between a butcher from rural Italy, an English builder and a banker from Beijing, but now we all have this visceral experience in common. Nations across the globe have suffered together at the hands of this virus, and my hope is that we will recover together.

Naomi is studying for her master's degree in International Relations at the University of Liverpool.

Print E-mail Bookmark and Share