Spring of isolation: life in Lisbon, Portugal in times of Coronavirus

Last updated on 10-Apr-2020

Spring has just started in the northern hemisphere, but in most places, human activity is moving opposite to the improving weather. People are staying indoors. All around us, shops, cafes, restaurants, markets, offices, and stores are closed or open with modified services and hours. Many organizations have employees working from home. Education institutions and childcare centres are closed. Roads and sidewalks are empty. Even essentials like grocery stores and pharmacies have reduced hours and/or restrict the number of clients inside. It’s a new reality that feels very surreal and even somewhat nightmarish. In a matter of weeks, life has changed across the globe. All because there’s an invisible enemy in the air.

There is no shortage of information (helpful or not) regarding the novel coronavirus disease, or COVID-19, a new respiratory disease that had not been previously identified in humans. It appeared in people for the first time in Wuhan, China at the end of 2019. After that, it quickly spread to every continent and was assessed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a global pandemic on March 11, 2020, less than three months later.

We have been in Lisbon since mid-December 2019. We are on a sabbatical and had planned to have a base in Portugal and do some travelling around Europe in 2020. Around February, as the virus started to reach some of our intended travel destinations – like Italy, Spain and France – we began to realize a lot would change, not only for us and our plans but for everybody. 

Lisbon remains our home for now, but life has been different. Whereas before we would spend a lot of time outside, enjoying the many hours of sunshine and the mild winter, exploring the city’s many attractions, beautiful scenery, striking architecture, and the seemingly endless food and entertainment options, we are now spending almost all of our time at home, except for taking the dog on quick walks and doing necessary shopping we can’t get delivered. We are glad the condo we rented is located in a good calm neighbourhood, with all kinds of amenities a short walk away. We are also glad our unit has a terrace, so we can “get out” without going out.

We started adjusting our routine in early March. Around that time, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Italy was close to 5.000 and rising fast (despite the quarantine decree imposed on northern Italy since February 22 and the nation-wide measures taken from March 1), confirmed cases had surpassed 500 in Spain, and Portugal had registered its first dozen cases. We started going out less, avoiding public transit and large gathering places like malls. Infection numbers grew very quickly after that, and everything else changed just as fast.

On March 12, 2020, the Portuguese government declared the highest level of alert because of COVID-19 and will maintain it until at least April 9. Then on March 18, the President declared the entirety of the Portuguese territory in a state of emergency for the following fifteen days, with the possibility of renewal. For now, there’s a limitation of movement for non-essential activities and the direction is to stay home as much as possible, keeping social distancing guidelines. Only essential workers and those who cannot work from home should go to their work location. We are still allowed to step outside as long as it is no more than two people together and from the same household, for exercising purposes, to walk the dog, or necessary trips to a grocery store or pharmacy.

Overall, people in Portugal seem to be responding well to the measures. The fear of a repeat of the dire situation in Italy or “next-door” neighbour Spain is a strong motivator. We also haven’t seen as much panic buying as reported in other countries, and grocery store shelves are well-stocked for the most part – even toilet paper is easy to find, although hand sanitizers are rare. Our hope is that the situation remains calm and the rate of transmission in the general population stays under control. And we are also very concerned about our parents and parents-in-law, who are all in their mid to late 70s and live in Brazil, where the rate of infection is accelerating.

Predictions and future models are grim. We don’t know how long this crisis is going to last, and we don’t know how much worse it will get before it gets better. We don’t know in what shape the global economy and local markets will be by the time this is over. It’s a healthcare emergency that is touching every aspect of our lives – careers, relationships, income, freedom, food security, mental health, and much more. 

In these uncertain times, we need to focus on self-care and kindness. We need to remember the golden rule and treat others like we want to be treated. We need to remember that we are all part of a community and we are in this together. Let’s choose to stay positive and let’s all do our parts to support/protect the most vulnerable. This is not a faraway problem that has nothing to do with us. It is (or will be soon) affecting people close to us – family members, friends and neighbours  – and we should all do our part and try NOT to make this even harder for anyone.

While many places are closed and activities are cancelled, conversations, music, humour, books, relationships, love, common sense, compassion, and hope can connect us and help us do the best we can each day. The start of spring reminds us of nature’s cycles, and inspires us to pause, rest, gather our strength, and stay healthy to be able to bloom again soon.  

Our blog is called VivaHappy, but we understand we can’t be happy all the time. What we can do is try to choose calm over panic, common good over individualism, optimism over anxiety, and mindful prevention over paranoia.

Here is a resource on ways to reduce anxiety as well as some ideas below to help you stay connected and grounded:

  • Check on friends, family, and co-workers via phone, SMS, WhatsApp, Skype, etc.
  • If working from home, try to stick to a regular schedule and stay productive
  • Engage with your family, spouse/partner, or roommate at home
  • Find simple activities that are relaxing, fun, and match your interests
  • Take an online course (plenty of free options on Coursera and Mooc)
  • Take virtual tours of museums and attractions all over the world
  • Get an early start on spring cleaning
  • Spend time in nature, if possible and safe
  • Limit exposure to news and social media
  • Look for information from official sources (WHO, local Ministry of Health)
  • BE KIND to yourself and others

In the meantime, if you are staying home and looking for some food ideas, we have several easy recipes on the blog for you to try.⁠

How are you trying to stay balanced and make the most of this time? If you need help, please reach out to local support organizations. If you can help, please lend a hand. And above all, please take care and #stayhome.

Talk to us! | Fale conosco!