It’s early. Six in the morning and the streets are empty except the few lone runners in their sportswear, heading towards the riverside or the island on the Danube.
If you take a close look at perfection, it’s imperfect, flawed, disrupted. Like we are.
The air is crisp, and I breathe it in while sipping on my morning coffee. For a moment, I get lost in the serenity of it all, the pureness of the morning and the silence of the sleeping houses around me. It’s almost spring, you can feel it in the air, the cold doesn’t hurt your lungs anymore, it’s smooth and soft. The birds are chirping in a weird cacophony and the first buds are just coming out at the tip of the branches.
It’s easy to forget about the world when everything looks so perfect.
I am reluctant to get up and face the day and I almost wish it would stay like this, when I remember, this is exactly how it is during the day too. The streets are almost empty. People are retracting in their houses, there are fewer cars and less noise. If you take a close look at perfection, it’s imperfect, flawed, disrupted. Like we are.
You don’t read anything about Hungary in the world press — which is good. After all who wants the fame of Italy or Spain for their relatively late measures or of the UK and the Netherlands for their now forgotten thoughts about herd immunity?
Hungary is a country of 10 million people in the heart of Central Europe with its pretty capital, Budapest. For all you know, we have an impossible-to-learn language, men all have moustaches and apparently we put paprika in everything. But that’s all. No big deal. Not really worth mentioning. Except when sometimes our Prime Minister says or does something exceptionally disturbing. Except for us who live here — and who face the same global crisis at another spot of the globe.
Ten days ago, following the international situation around the COVID-19, on the same day the WHO declared the coronavirus a pandemic, the Hungarian government announced a state of emergency.
It didn’t look that bad. But it was bad even before we saw it.
I was reading the news, holding in my breath, as they announced that they close the borders from people entering from high-risk countries — China, South Korea, Iran and Italy.
It didn’t seem too much. It didn’t seem blown out of proportion.
China and South Korea are far away, but Italy! Italy is practically our neighbour, and only two open borders away, just a mere 300 miles away terrible things are happening.
It could have been us. It could have been any other European country. It happened to be Italy, and Italy — my beautiful, beloved Italy — collapsed under the pressure of the pandemic.
Are they less disciplined? Are they too laid back in their Mediterranean attitudes? Or were they just unlucky?
The virus hit them with full force, it has been circulating in the air for weeks by the time they noticed they were sick.
And us, here in Hungary, along with the rest of the world, have just been watching with growing terror.
Two weeks ago, I had met a dad on the playground who told me quite annoyed that they were supposed to go to Florence for a week, but he had to cancel. I understood his frustration. We shook our heads, not really getting the point.
It didn’t look that bad. But it was bad even before we saw it.
It turned visibly bad overnight. Over a couple of nights.
One day it looked fine, the next we were frowning, and the next it was time to stay at home.
Last Wednesday 11th March, the emergency state was issued with the closing of the borders. The universities, theatres, movies were closed down.
On Friday (13th March) night, they announced to close down the schools — for an undetermined time. Not two weeks, not six. No mention how long.
On Monday (16th March) they started with digital education — which is a joke, more on that later. They closed down the gathering above 100 people and ordered bars and restaurants to be closed after 3 pm.
This Wednesday (18th March) they deployed the army to the most important enterprises for protection.
This Friday they sent the army to the streets to help the patrolling police. It is supposed to calm people’s nerves.
I’m not sure if the sight of soldiers will calm our nerves.
We don’t have a curfew yet. We have strict measures and strong recommendations to carry out social distancing. Most companies who can afford it ordered remote working. The shops and pharmacies limit the number of people entering — and people are queuing on the street, patiently waiting.
The stores are stocked. We have everything. Although the prices are exceptionally high already — 30–50% more expensive than I am used to.
We must be around 2–3 weeks behind Italy, and the number of reported cases are still below 100.
Looking out the streets, it looks empty — but there are people not taking the situation seriously enough.
I’m not sure I can blame them. It doesn’t look like it.
We have really low numbers. We have no idea how many people actually got tested and what are the rates. We have 1 fatality only — someone with a myriad of other illnesses plus coronavirus, where you can’t even tell if this virus is the culprit.
We are working from home, we are working in different schedules, we are taking measures to slow down the spreading.
It might never even reach us — right? It could very well be that we have started our preemptive measures early enough and now we won’t face the same as Hubei, South Korea, Italy, Spain. We won’t have deaths. We might just make it.
But this uncertainty! It’s terrible.
Life has turned upside down and after having secured the necessary staples and enough hand sanitizer to decontaminate the whole city — we wait. The wait and the uncertainty are terrible. It’s mentally devastating to see what could happen, what could arrive any day.
We are a few days away from a lockdown — I would say.
The borders now are closed, they only allow Hungarian citizens in and they need to get into a 14-day quarantine.
The military protecting the infrastructurally crucial enterprises could sound like good news. The military on the street should give reassurance. The strict measures despite the low numbers should give hope.
But there is another aspect of it, that is worrying. We are a country with a government who is, to say the least, questionable in their actions. Are the numbers real? Are the actions just temporary? Is it complying only with the globally recommended social distancing or are these the first signs of taking even more power — under circumstances when everyone is preoccupied with their own lives?
Staying away from politics and minding our own lives is the best that we can do. But the economical consequences are inevitable and there might be political consequences that we do not yet consider.
We are solving this situation one step at a time, one more restriction at a time — to protect ourselves, the elderly, the community and the healthcare system. But we don’t know what really goes on behind the scenes while we are busy feeding our kids and getting them to adapt to new learning routines. We have no idea how grave the situation is and how difficult it can get in weeks.
And we have no idea how this will impact our lives once this threat is gone. Whether the borders will stay closed or not. Whether the military on the street will be really helping to keep the order. Whether it is a covert power move with manipulated numbers — in the name of saving people.
We are staying at home. We are minding our own businesses. We are trying to keep up the resemblance to a life that we used to have. We are coping with the situation — without knowing what the situation is.
We worry about what is close so that we don’t have to worry about something we don’t see or we have no way of knowing anyway.
We look inside and stay inside. We wash hands and use copious amounts of hand cream to repair the chapped skin. We wipe doorknobs and cough in our elbows. We queue patiently and we wait.
We don’t know what to be afraid of — because there are too many things that can turn out to be terrible.
This is about losing freedom — but we don’t know the extent of that loss until it happens. We hope for the best and prepare for the worst.
After all, what else is there to do?
Everything that happens to us will become history. By documenting the events all across the globe, we are writing history in real-time. Our stories and voices matter. Now and for the sake of the future, too. Please, keep telling your stories.
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