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Notes from abroad: Four people of different countries share pandemic struggles
4 people, 4 countries: A look into COVID-19 beyond the U.S.
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Jacky Mo and his family on a bus in Hong Kong.

Each day the world holds its breath as the pandemic surges in waves over people’s lives.

While some countries have managed to flatten the curve of COVID-19, others are struggling to respond to the virus sweeping through their populations.

To offer a glimpse into people’s battles beyond Hall County and the U.S., The Times has interviewed four people from different parts of the world.

Margherita Davoli: Milan, Italy

Italy Friday, March 27: 86,498 cases, 9,134 deaths 

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Margherita Davoli.
Every evening Margherita Davoli waits for the pleasant blare of Italian music as it echoes throughout her neighborhood in Milan, the heart of Lombardy, the region most crippled by the novel coronavirus.

Occasionally she’ll lean her head out of her window to sing and laugh along with others. 

Although Italians are required by new legislation to remain within a 500-meter radius of their homes, they find ways to brighten the situation.

“At 6 p.m. there’s usually some people who have really loud speakers they put on the window,” Davoli said. “They’re usually Italian songs and everyone is singing together. It’s a way to lift spirits. It’s nice.”

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Margherita Davoli.
Like most Italians, Davoli has spent the past month working from home, only going out to pick up necessary groceries for her parents and 85-year-old grandmother. 

In early March, Davoli remembers having dinner with her friends and making weekend plans to travel to the mountains. She said at the time many people in Italy didn’t take COVID-19 seriously, until the government of Italy enforced a nationwide quarantine on March 9.

Before the legislation took effect, Davoli said panic broke out.

“Saturday night at midnight about 1,000 people took the train from Milan, and escaped to the south of Italy,” Davoli said. “That was the worst thing to do because now people in the south are getting very sick.”

Instead of cleaning the shelves of toilet paper as happened in the United States, Davoli said people cleaned out grocery stores of pasta, flour, bottled water and tomatoes. 

The only businesses open to the public include supermarkets, pharmacies and grocery stores.

When the new legislation passed, Davoli said at first people were allowed to leave their homes for food, medicine and outdoor activities. 

“All of a sudden everyone is now a jogger,” Davoli said. “They now had to change the law, so now you can’t go out to take some air or exercise.”

When Davoli leaves her house, she is required by law to keep certification on hand.

The certification, which can be printed out online, includes the user’s name, birthday, address and reason for going out in public. 

“If they police catch you, you have to show the certification,” Davoli said. 

When looking at the state of Italy, Davoli can’t help but think of what went wrong. 

Hospitals are full, and the country’s case total has reached the second highest in the world under the U.S, according to reported numbers of cases.

“I think the government should’ve acted sooner,” Davoli said. “The legislation only came out two to three weeks ago, but if they had this five to six weeks ago, I think the problem would’ve stayed more contained.”

During her first week of working from home, Davoli had difficulty adjusting. She said the days seemed to mesh together, and the lack of fresh air didn’t help either. 

For those in the U.S. struggling with staying indoors, Davoli recommends figuring out a daily routine. 

Davoli starts her morning at 9 a.m. and works for four hours until lunch. She then takes an hour break to cook a meal with her mom and dad, then returns for another four hours of work. From 6-8 p.m. she typically exercises via Skype with a friend, then follows with a shower and dinner. The last few hours of the day are dedicated to her hobbies like drawing, learning Swedish and watching movies.

“The next day, I do the same thing again,” Davoli said. “I think I’m lucky that I still have a job, so most of the day is occupied by that. If you have some daily or weekly goals it gets better.”

Allie Richards: Munich, Germany

Germany Friday, March 27: 50,871 cases, 351 deaths

Allie Richards, an Athens native who lives in Munich, remembers the few hours before Germany implemented its strict social distancing on March 22.

She was spending time with her friends in a park and watching people enjoy the warm air.

“It was the most bizarre thing because families were still out playing,” Richards said. “It looked like a big festival. Kids were licking ice-cream. I was a bit puzzled why Germany was taking this so lightly.”

However, once Chancellor Angela Merkel presented a speech about the country’s new restrictions, Richards said attitudes shifted. 

“For instance, everyone was out playing because the government didn’t issue an official warning,” she said. “As soon as they issued an effective shutdown, nobody was around, and people took it seriously.”

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Allie Richards, an Athens native who lives in Germany.
Richards said this complete trust in the government strongly contrasts her experience in the U.S. While she doesn’t think this is a lesson people in the states should learn, Richards considers herself lucky to live in Germany.

“It is really nice being in a country where you really put more trust in the government instead of having this constant questioning or disdain,” she said.

Richards noted that Merkel took strategic steps before laying out Germany’s COVID-19 procedures. She said the chancellor pointed out that she wanted to wait as long as necessary before implementing rules to not alarm those who lived in former East Germany or were alive during World War II.

“I started noticing that they’re really delicate in this whole process,” Richards said. “You can tell that if you’re not doing what you’re told, the police won’t actually inflict a punishment, but they’ll tell you to leave and go home. It’s nice that you don’t have to be afraid of walking around your building and getting a 4,000 euro fine from a cop.”

Richards, who is pursuing her Ph.D. in Munich, said being away from her family during the pandemic has proved challenging. 

Her mother is on the front lines battling the virus as a physician. Although Richards considers her mom and the rest of her family healthy, she can’t help but worry about them. 

“It took me a little while to breathe through it,” Richards said. “I’ve noticed that it goes in waves where I feel motivated and optimistic that they’re going to be OK, and I’m going to be OK. Then, it’ll feel like the walls are closing in, and I’m totally helpless.”

Clinton Ngan: Dublin, Ireland

Ireland Friday, March 27: 1,819 cases, 19 deaths

Rain and grey clouds usually fill the skies of Ireland, but during the recent surge of the pandemic, Clinton Ngan said his home in Dublin has been sunnier than ever.

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Clinton Ngan.
“Ever since I’ve been working from home, the weather has been great,” Ngan. “It’s just our luck.”

Although the pubs, schools and most businesses have closed down in Dublin, Ngan said he hasn’t felt a sense of preparedness in the country. 

“I think they’re handling it well given the lack of experience they have, but I think they could be doing more,” he said. 

Ngan was born and raised in Hong Kong, which survived the SARS epidemic in the early 2000s.

When COVID-19 first hit China, Ngan’s thoughts automatically went to his family.

“Obviously I was worried about them because they’re so close to China,” Ngan said. “But when it first started spreading to Ireland, I realized that it’s actually safer to be in Hong Kong because here they don’t have that experience.”

In Dublin, Ngan said many people have a nonchalant attitude about the virus. He sees people still going out into public and spending time in groups.

“People in Hong Kong are taking it very seriously and doing all sorts of preventive actions; whereas, here some people still think it’s like the flu,” Ngan said. “I’m not worried for my parents, honestly.”

Ngan said he has noticed more “non-asian” people in Dublin wearing masks to limit exposure to the virus, and seen businesses promote social distancing by placing tape on the ground to separate those waiting in lines.

Like Hong Kong, Ngan said he hopes Ireland will jump ahead of the game to flatten the COVID-19 curve.

“It’s getting more real for sure,” Ngan said. “Enforcing a lockdown would be good. I know it would suck to have the cops patrolling the ground, but if that’s what it takes to slow down the spread, then that’s necessary.”

Jacky Mo: Hong Kong

Hong Kong Friday, March 27: 453 cases, 4 deaths

As soon as word about the COVID-19 outbreak in China hit Hong Kongers, Jacky Mo said the masks went on and sanitizing procedures took full force. 

“In 2002 and 2003 Hong Kong was hit pretty hard by SARS,” Mo said. “It was an early lesson for us, and Hong Kong citizens are very sensitive to this kind of issue.”

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Jacky Mo and his family on a bus in Hong Kong.

To those in the Western Hemisphere, masks may seem like an odd fashion statement. But, to Hong Kongers and other parts of Asia, Mo said they’re a preventative habit.

“You wear them when you’re sick, so you don’t transmit it to other people,” he said. “It also prevents people from getting saliva on your face when you’re talking closeup. Obviously it won’t be 100% effective, but at least it’s a small barrier of protection.”

Around the end of January, Mo said Hong Kongers noticed the surge of cases in China, and most reacted accordingly. Other than donning masks and enacting stricter cleaning regimenes, he said life carried on normally. 

Hong Kong had contained the virus well, with only 100 or so cases among its 7.4 million population.

However, Mo said that all changed around two weeks ago when complacency kicked in and people from overseas began traveling back to Hong Kong. 

“We had a second wave,” Mo said. “Now there was a second peak with a lot of cases.”

In early March, Mo said companies started closing their facilities and people took to working from home.

The government also began restricting people from entering Hong Kong unless they held permanent residency. Mo said those who do come back receive a wristband and are placed in mandatory home quarantine for 14 days. People with COVID-19 are also required to wear a wristband.

“There are different colors to identify if you are one of the infected or someone who came in close contact with an infected person,” Mo said. “If you do get caught outside, I believe the fine would be around $3,000.”

Mo said Hong Kongers pay close attention to those with the wristbands, and many aren’t afraid to call them out.

“They get reported by Hong Kong people and they get scolded by people on the street,” he said. “You can tell that Hong Kong people take this very seriously.”

Like the U.S., Hong Kong experienced a toilet paper phenomenon.

Mo said he heard about a local case where thieves robbed a supermarket at knife point, and stole six carts of toilet paper. 

Hong Kong also underwent a shortage in medical masks. Mo said in early February he remembers people waiting overnight outside of pharmacies to line up for a pack of the product. 

Luckily, he said his family stocked up on both products before people flooded stores.

As the warm weather creeps closer, Mo is optimistic that COVID-19 will reach the same fate as SARS.

“In July 2003 pretty much all of a sudden people stopped getting infected,” Mo said. “I’m hoping by summer everything will resolve. We’re all in this fight together.”

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Jacky Mo.
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