Shaazia Ebrahim: Experiencing lockdown in two different countries

The former Daily Vox reporter is currently reading for her Masters in London. She shared her thoughts on experiencing lockdown in another country. The United Kingdom went into lockdown from the beginning of November until the beginning of December.  

Read more: A South African student in Europe experiencing her second Lockdown talks to us

What is the mood in London?

London went into a lockdown from the first of November and it’s supposed to end on the 2nd of December. When I arrived here in October, it wasn’t under a strict lockdown but there were still lockdown rules in place. Now it’s a little bit stricter. I don’t think that people in London are quite bothered about the lockdown. I’m just comparing it to the mood when lockdown was first introduced and people were so afraid and uncertain and took it very seriously. I think people are just getting on with their lives and are quite frustrated by the lockdown. I’ve heard people say that they’re frustrated by the way the lockdown infringes on their rights to move around and to be with their family. 

What is and is not allowed under lockdown restrictions?

In this lockdown there are quite a few rules. So quite a few of the shops are closed. You are only allowed to shop for essential services. Pharmacies are open, food stores and restaurants are open for takeaway. You are not allowed to meet with people unless they are in your social bubble. I guess that caters for people who live alone and otherwise would not have any social contact. You are allowed to take public transport. Universities and schools are open. As much as there are quite a few rules to do with the lockdown, I would say there are so many excuses that you could use to be out, that it’s difficult to understand where people are going. People are on the streets and the parks are always full because you are allowed to exercise. You are allowed to go to public spaces and there are quite a few parks in London. The parks are absolutely packed. I feel like there is enough room for people to go out under this lockdown. 

How am I coping/ what do I do? 

I don’t find this lockdown difficult at all especially when compared to South Africa’s first lockdown. I got the library almost every week because universities are open. I take public transport and I go to different parks and walk around. You are allowed to meet one person in a public space so if a friend is there we’ll just have a coffee and walk around. I don’t have the same sense of unease that I had during the first lockdown. It’s not that we know more about COVID. It’s just that we are unfortunately getting used to living with it. Compared to how restricted and trapped I felt during the first lockdown and when we first started learning about COVID.

How is it different to South Africa?

I think what’s different about South Africa’s lockdown as compared to this lockdown – I obviously can’t speak about London’s first lockdown – this one isn’t so heavily enforced. We had those horror stories of the police brutalising and killing people for apparently violating lockdown regulations. Here it isn’t strictly enforced at all or I haven’t seen it in any case. They also aren’t as strict about what is and isn’t an essential service. You can go to Boots, which is a pharmacy store and all the makeup stalls are open. You can go to Marks and Spencers for food but all of their sections are open. I feel like that’s unfair to other retailers. Also so many people are gathering outside. You’ll see groups of people at the park. In South Africa, we didn’t see a lot of people gathering outside. The mood is much lighter. 

What do I expect for the future?

The lockdown is supposed to be lifted partially on the 2nd of December. I suppose there will be more shops open like Primark and other clothing stores. I’m not sure what they’re going to do about restaurants. There’s also whisperings about a vaccine so I don’t know what that will mean. I don’t think they will cancel Christmas. A lot of people have been stressed about COVID cancelling Christmas even though so many other religious groups have “celebrated” their religious holidays alone.

So despite the number of infections and death due to COVID in London, I would say that people are just frustrated. I feel there has to be a better way or more effective way of curbing the spread of COVID. While the lockdown restrictions are saving the lives of some people, it’s jeopardising the lives and the economic wellbeing of many others. I guess I join the rest of the world in hoping that something better comes along whether it’s a cure or a better way of managing the spread of the virus. 

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. 

Featured image provided by Shaazia Ebrahim