Frightened by Coronavirus, Many of U.K.’s Poles Are Heading Home

“It was all a little late,” he said. “In his first press conference in 10 Downing Street, I thought he would have shut all nonessential shops back then — not a week and a half later.”

For some, the virus has been both a logistical and a psychological drama, forcing them to choose between the pull of two identities. Alina Nowobilska, a historical researcher of Polish heritage who was born and raised in England, now spends more of her time in Poland but found herself in London just as the crisis was escalating.

She was struck by the contrast. “When I got to England everyone was like, ‘Whatever,’ and I was thinking everyone is locking down in Poland, the schools closed a week ago, the Polish government is taking things very seriously, everyone is listening to the advice,” she said speaking by phone from Bielsko-Biala, Poland.

“In Britain there were still football matches going on and I was going, ‘Are you serious?’” she added.

With its recent history, including the transition from Communism, Poland was perhaps more accustomed to dealing with crises and more willing to accept an interruption in everyday life, said Ms. Nowobilska, 33.

“Poles listened and sucked it up and got on with it,” she added. “In England everyone was saying, ‘I’m still going to the pub.’ Poland acted faster and as a result will get rid of this virus faster.”

Getting back was not straightforward. By the time details of available flights arrived by email they had generally sold out, so it took persistence, refreshing her computer every 20 minutes on the LOT website. But, once on board, the airline staff were helpful, and back home even the local police have been supportive, she said.

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