Coronavirus moments: Postcards from a nervous world

The Washington Post has asked contributors around the world to share their experiences.

Amanda Colletta, Toronto

On the same day the World Health Organization declared a pandemic, March 11, I had surgery. Complications afterward necessitated two uneasy emergency room visits.

During one of them, my nurse volunteered she’d been busy testing people for covid-19. While inserting catheters and cannulas, she rattled off several reasons she thought the hospital was unprepared.

My mom, who is immunocompromised, and I exchanged alarmed glances.

For weeks, calls with relatives in Italy had provided a grim play-by-play of what it’s like to sleepwalk into a crisis. Were they tales from our future?

Much of Toronto is shuttered. Liquor stores, pharmacies and supermarkets are considered “essential” and are open. Cannabis shops — deemed essential weeks earlier — are closed.

There’s no Blue Jays’ home opener to dissect. The Raptors’s 2019 title run is being rebroadcast, but watching games played in packed stadiums is surreal at a time of social distancing.

My neighborhood is eerily quiet. People walk on the road to avoid those approaching on the sidewalk. More and more of them are wearing masks. The only sounds during a recent walk were birds chirping and a neighbor’s wind chimes.

Others flock to the city’s parks, flouting repeated calls to keep two meters — “about the length of a hockey stick,” signs say — apart. After weeks of pleas fell on deaf ears, police were dispatched to enforce the rules.

My dad, meanwhile, reported good news. He’s not touching his face — and has broken a lifelong nail-biting habit.

“Must be the fear of dying,” he said.

Vincent Bevins, Sao Paulo

This is mostly a vertical city, a dark and misty megalopolis. Many of us live in crumbling old high-rises. People flash their lights, bang pots or project messages onto other buildings during protests each evening against the right-wing government of President Jair Bolsonaro, who has flouted social distancing rules and encouraged supporters to do the same.

We’re stuck inside. It does not help our anxiety to know there is an open power struggle in the country.

Look down and the streets are empty, except for delivery workers and the most desperate. Young men, wearing big food-laden backpacks, zip back and forth on motorcycles and bicycles and entirely ignore traffic lights. The homeless are there, exposed and trying in vain to sell trinkets or beg. And petty criminals are still out, but with far fewer people to target.

I’ve seen two robberies up close since quarantine started. A cyclist snatched a man’s phone, peddling away from me. The man instinctively yelled, “grab the thief!” He had forgotten there was no one down the street to help.

A. Odysseus Patrick, Sydney

Sydney’s famous Bondi Beach is now mostly empty, and patrolled by police officers threatening steep fines for breaking a new law prohibiting gatherings of more than two people, and any outside recreation other than exercise.

There is one group who refuse to give up the beach: surfers.

It is unclear if surfing is a prohibited activity. Is it exercise or a pastime? Is it a risk to physical health, or a benefit to mental health? No one in authority seems to have decided.

I last went surfing in late March at Manly, another of the city’s popular beaches. There were several hundred people on boards and a few scattered sunbathers on the sand.

The closest I got to another person was another surfer. I came within in a few inches of running her over. We exchanged mutual apologies, and paddled our separate ways.

Even if authorities decide to ban surfing, it might be difficult to enforce. Many Sydney surfers refuse to leave the water even when shark alarms go off.

I asked a medical expert for advice. David Isaacs, a pediatrician who published a book last year about the history of vaccines and pandemics, told me not to worry.

“Covid-19 isn’t transmitted through the water,” he said. “You can go surfing, on your own.”

Inna Lazareva, Tbilisi, Georgia

People in central Tbilisi, hunkering down in their apartments, were roused weeks ago by a sudden gush of wind and the sound of propeller blades. In the skies above, a Georgian Orthodox archbishop in full ecclesiastic regalia sat inside a helicopter clutching a framed icon.

His aim? To fight the coronavirus through blessings and prayers. The efforts of the “holy helicopter” were met with both amusement and bemusement. “I feel somehow uplifted!” mused one friend. “At least now my balcony is cleared of rubbish” by the chopper props, grumbled another.

Georgians are lovers of sumptuous feasts, of sharing wine with friends and exchanging stories. “Social distancing” is a puzzling concept here. Schools, most shops, businesses and restaurants are closed. Tbilisi — usually brimming with activity — looks frozen and depleted.

Yet amid the deserted streets, you can still catch the tempting whiff of freshly baked bread rising seemingly out of nowhere. Follow the scent. It will lead to you to basement bakery, offering steaming bread oozing with melted cheese or sweet cream. It’s perhaps the most comforting reassurance that Tbilisi is still Tbilisi.

Video postcards of life under lockdown:

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