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Quarantined abroad – Stories from Belarus

By Mahika Panditha

Happy Sunday! Another week, another country featuring their quarantine stories. As some of you may know, Belarus is a landlocked Eastern European country and is home to the famous Vitebsk State Medical University in which a lot of our Sri Lankan friends study. The situation in Colombo, as opposed to most places, is improving slightly and even though the cases have not completely stopped, we have eased curfew and people are slowly returning to the “new normal”. The Government has been kind enough to bring back students and Sri Lankan residents living abroad, and some of the students in Belarus came back early last week. We had the chance to talk to a few of them amidst their exams and returning home, and here is what they had to say!

SITHARA DEHERAGODA – WAS IN BELARUS

 

  • What was the Covid-19 situation like in Belarus?

 

Covid-19 came to Belarus a bit later compared to most of the other countries. But from there on, it took a steep increase in the number of cases. I’m sure you have seen all the memes and videos of the Victory Day parade in Minsk and how people seemed to remain oblivious to this pandemic. It was suggested to people to drink vodka and go to saunas and sadly, some actually believed those. To this date, there has been no curfew or any type of restrictions made. People have to go to work and go on with their usual lives. The parents of many children didn’t send their kids to school and hence the Government was forced to give holidays for them. As of 30 May, the number of cases was just above 40,000, but many remain sceptical about the accuracy of the count.

 

  • How long were you in quarantine and what did you do to keep busy?

 

In the beginning, our university continued to have classes as usual even after the count reached 1,000. But after petitioning, requests from the Embassy, and letters from our parents, the universities finally decided to switch to an online method of learning. People continue their studies at the safety of their homes and many of us got our groceries and other essentials delivered even though all the supermarkets and restaurants functioned as usual. We were all terrified about stepping out of home because the general public was not taking the situation seriously. Roughly around three out of 10 people would wear a mask when they go outdoors and people continued with picnics and outings as Spring came in. We had the usual amount of assignments and exams given by our teachers to do, so we managed to keep ourselves busy with that.

 

  • What is the first thing you are going to do once you are out of quarantine?

 

I’m sure quarantine has taught us all a lot. It made us more appreciative of our family, friends, and most importantly of how we managed our time. Until this, we were all caught up in our busy lifestyles and it was hard to appreciate the little things. As much as I’m glad that things are slowly returning to normal in the world, I’m going to miss the time we had for ourselves. It’s definitely going to be difficult to wake up at 6 a.m. again, but I’m sure most of you missed going to college or work and then coming back home to complain about how tiring your day was. I also can’t wait to step outside and go for a long drive, take pictures of beautiful sunsets, and walk barefoot on a beach. Hope everyone is staying safe and well. 

SHEVINDA RAJAPAKSHE – CURRENTLY IN BELARUS

 

  • What is the Covid-19 situation like in Belarus?

 

Speaking of the Covid-19 situation here in Belarus, as of 29 May, there were 39,858 reported total cases, with 22,491 active cases and 204 deaths reported. I live in the city of Vitebsk and as for measures taken by the Belarusian authorities here, so far there haven’t been any lockdowns or quarantine measures being imposed. Instead, we’re given the option of self-isolating ourselves if we insist. Restaurants, shopping malls, public transport, etc. have been operating as usual with fewer working hours –  no strict guidelines. However, new general preventive measures such as social distancing in public, temperature checks, and safety precautions are in place. Schools and universities have been closed down and we’re all studying/working online. You could say that here in Belarus it’s more of a “self-isolation” situation than a “quarantine” situation. Anyhow, I do feel that people have started to take this situation seriously now than they have in the past. Hopefully, it will all get better soon.

 

  • How long were you in quarantine and what did you do to keep busy? 

 

I’ve been in self-isolation since 3 March; I remember the date specifically because we were due an exam that Friday (we call it a “control test” here). Since all hospitals and clinics are out of bounds for us, we’ve had to settle to study online ever since, and you could say it has been an experience.

Besides grocery shopping and a seldom walk in the evenings, I’ve had a lot of time on my hands lately. Time flies when you spend most of your days submitting assignments, studying, and keeping up with Theodore’s (my cat) many shenanigans , but I’ve had a lot of free time for leisure as well.

I’ve spent a lot of my time cooking, baking, catching up on some reading, reconnecting with old friends, and of course watching Netflix. I’ve also had time to revive some of my many little hobbies as well – I’ve made a few covers of songs, got a hold of a few more house plants for my little apartment, and overall had more time for myself!

You realise how much you’ve been missing out on and neglecting when you lose that sense of regularity and time slows down. I think I speak for a lot of us when I say our busy schedules and the  amount of effort that goes into managing our time seems almost incompatible with living mindfully and intuitively sometimes. This extra time I’ve spent at home has sort of been an eye-opener for me in terms of self-reflection and introspection, and I believe this is very important. Some things that have helped me is sticking to a routine, music, and being positive in these troubled times that we are all going through.

 

  • What is going to be the first thing you do once you are out of quarantine?

 

There are so very many things I’d like to do! I miss all my friends and family and I’d love to visit them soon. I’d also want to go for a picnic in this amazing weather outside here in Belarus these days (Winters are long here and the prospect of warm weather is something we all longingly wait for). I also want to travel a lot this Summer. But most of all, I hope that life goes back to normal and we can carry on with our day-to-day lives outside again. 

G.P.V. GATHMINI VIHANGA VITHANAGE – WAS IN BELARUS

 

  • What is the Covid-19 situation like in Belarus?

 

Based on statistics, the infected number of patients in Belarus has exceeded 40,000 and Belarus is among the top five European countries reporting the highest cumulative numbers of confirmed Covid-19 cases over the past 14 days.

Up to date, there has not been a lockdown in the country. Even though the universities and schools have been conducting online classes for the past two months, the rest of the country functions as it always did. No cancellations in mass events; recently, even the Victory Parade happened, throwing “social distancing” down the drain.

 

  • How long were you in quarantine and what did you do to keep busy? 

 

I was in quarantine for the past two months. My university chose to have classes online since the last week of March. Since the university classes happened as usual during the quarantine period, we were engaged in studying and doing the necessary assignments, MCQs, and class work throughout. Also, I didn’t forget to try out cooking some new dishes!

 

  • What is going to be the first thing you do once you are out of quarantine?

 

Maybe go out, visit my friends, and have long walks since it’s Summer!

SHAKIRAH SALIH – WAS IN BELARUS

 

  • What is the Covid-19 situation like in Belarus?

 

The situation in Belarus has gotten quite severe, with over 40,000 cases per day and with an increase of almost 1,000 cases per day. This is mainly because both the Government and general public have underestimated the seriousness of this pandemic. People continue to carry on with their lives as usual. However, several independent societies managed to get a petition signed by over 100,000 people requesting quarantine in Belarus, to which the Government chose not to comment on.

 

  • How long were you in quarantine and what did you do to keep busy? 

 

I was never in quarantined per se; my colleagues and I were in self-isolation to be exact. It took a lot of convincing to get our university to switch to an online platform as the situation worsened. Assignments and exams kept us busy as usual, but I definitely have more free time so I’ve been cooking and learning new recipes, which is something I love to do but never really had the time to. I’ve also been able to get in touch with many of my friends from school with whom I had lost contact with because of time differences and busy schedules.

 

  • What is going to be the first thing you do once you are out of quarantine?

 

It is Summer time over here and over the years, my friends and I have made it a tradition to go watch the sunset, take pictures, and then go to a cute coffee shop and sip a overpriced cup of coffee while talking about the most random things. It’s something we’ve been unable to do so far this year. 

PHOTOS SITHARA, SHEVINDA