As we pass the six-week mark of lockdown in the UK, life before coronavirus almost seems fictional. Did we ever drink pints surrounded by strangers in a pub? Were we really allowed to have people over who weren’t on a laptop screen? What’s a restaurant again?
Now that the UK had passed the peak of the pandemic, speculation as to how the government will ease the lockdown has begun. Boris Johnson was originally set to review lockdown guidelines this Thursday, but the review has now been postponed until Sunday – a likely sign that the government is in no rush to get everything back to normal. Indeed, a report released this week from the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) outlines the many considerations for easing a lockdown, including the potential economic, psychological and social costs and benefits.
Right now, suggestions of what the UK’s exit strategy could look like are speculative. This week, the Telegraph claimed that schools could reopen as early as the 1st of June, while Nicola Sturgeon told BBC Scotland that a possible change could to lockdown guidelines could allow people to expand their social circles to visit those outside their household.
Whatever happens, it's hard to imagine what life post-lockdown will look like. So, to find out what to expect in the UK, we spoke to young people in European countries where stay-at-home orders have been eased to different extents, and asked them what it felt like to get that sweet taste of freedom again.
YOU'LL FEEL LIBERATED
“It feels wonderful,” says Indigo Trigg-Hauger, a student in Oslo where lockdown rules have been lifting since April. “This week, starting tomorrow, they're going to start selling alcohol in Oslo again, and I already have friends who are sending me messages saying, ‘Do you want to get a pint? Do you want to meet up?’”
In Italy, which has been one of the worst-hit countries in Europe (... after the UK), residents were restricted from leaving their houses other than for essential trips – until this week. Alice Rossi, VICE Italy’s editor-in-chief currently based in Milan, says that running never felt so good.
“I’m a bit of a gym rat but I’ve never gone jogging, not even once in my whole life,” she tells me. “And yet, after two months of basically leaving home every fortnight only to buy groceries at the supermarket behind the corner, on the first day of phase two, I waited patiently to finish work and then went for a jog.”
“I had been working from home and practising social distancing even before the lockdown, so being able to walk the streets I used to walk every morning, see people other than my boyfriend and my neighbours, breathe some fresh air (despite face masks being mandatory), and feel my muscles ache for the first time in weeks was a much-needed change. It felt liberating.”
IT WILL SEEM VERY SURREAL
While Oslo has only recently lifted the ban on alcohol, places outside the region are have had more lax rules around drinks. Trigg-Hauger took a trip outside of Oslo this weekend and was able to get a beer as if nothing had changed.
“It was like another world,” she says “It was surreal. It was really nice, it felt like, oh my God, this is what normal life is life.”
YOU'LL BECOME REALLY AWARE OF BEING TOUCHED
“Last week, the physical therapy places and massage therapists opened, and I got both,” says Trigg-Hauger. “When I was getting that massage, I was like, ‘Woah, this is the first time that someone, not my boyfriend, has touched me for eight weeks.’
“It was so weird,” she continued. “And I realised how nice it was. It's always nice to get a massage but it was so nice to be close to a person and be able to talk to them, and not be freaking out or not be feeling guilty.”
In Berlin, some public spaces have been opened, such as museums, schools, and hairdressers. Hassan*, who lives in Berlin, recently got his hair cut for the first time in eight weeks. “Honestly, it felt amazing,” he says. “It's something that you don't really think about much, and it's not really a necessary thing to get your haircut. It just makes you look more presentable. It just made me feel somewhat like I was functioning.”
IT WILL PROBABLY FEEL A BIT SCARY, BUT THAT'S FINE
“I am a little worried it's going to go too far too fast,” says Trigg-Hauger. “Some of the schools have opened and that seems to be going OK, but at the same time, there was a school that had to close because a teacher had coronavirus and they were worried it was spreading. I am a little concerned that things are returning too quickly, but obviously, on a personal level it feels wonderful.”
Rossi says it’s OK to feel tentative. “It can be very easy to get used to new situations, so the news of lockdown rules being lifted might definitely cause anxiety,” she says. “You might find yourself asking, 'Will I be able to go back to my normal life?' or 'Do I even want to?' Or maybe you might feel like going out immediately and partying non-stop to make up for all the time you spent indoors. It's completely understandable.”
She adds: “Thing is, nobody is going back to normal life for a long, long time. Lifting lockdown rules works if each and every one of us (or most of us) don’t step out of line, but most of all, if local and national leaders have a plan. So, pray that your country has a plan.”
*Some names have been changed.
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