At midnight today the catchily-named COVID-19-Massnahmengesetz, or COVID-19 Measures Law, came into effect and along with it a regulation (enabled by the same law) to impose a strict lockdown on the whole of Austria. Very few people think these measures are a bad idea. The situation in Austria right now is serious, but to prevent it becoming even more serious and to “flatten the top” of the epidemiological curve it’s the right thing to do. No argument there. It’s doing exactly what the UK isn’t doing, which probably means it’s an excellent idea. It’s doing what Italy should have done a week or so earlier, and given that Italy is right there across the southern border it makes a lot of sense to act decisively.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean it’s not going to be boring and stressful as hell.
In summary, the situation as of today is that everything that is not necessary for daily life is closed. Most shops are closed. From tomorrow restaurants and cafes are closed as well. Supermarkets and pharmacists and drogeries (in case you have an urgent need for homeopathic remedies) are open. Tobacco shops can remain open because while reducing smoking numbers is an excellent public health nudge, forcing the smoking population to give up en masse while shut in their apartment with their families probably isn’t good for their families. You can post a letter or buy stamps. You can commute to work on public transport if you really can’t work from home, but you really should be working from home unless you’re something like a policeman or a tram driver or a doctor – or one of those other unsung heroes of daily life, a checkout operator at Billa.
You can take your kids to nursery if you really need to, and even primary schools are open to provide care for children whose parents absolutely have to work and absolutely can’t do it from home. Emergency workers, carers, doctors, pharmacists, food supply workers and so on have carte blanche in this area for obvious reasons. The rest of us have to be really convinced that we can’t work with the kids around – ultimately the decision is up to parents, but the government has been very, very unsubtle around its messaging in this area. I’ve lost count of the time that Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (a man who at 33 is the world’s youngest head of government and thus looks as if they’re letting the work experience kid fill in for the day as a treat) has stood in front of the cameras and sternly warned people to “Stay at home!”. He has a good cop/bad cop thing going with Vice-Chancellor Werner Kogler where Kurz sternly tells people that if they’re found out on the street without good reason they’ll be fined a million billion euros and held responsible for the deaths of thousands before Kogler cheerfully reassures people that “of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t go for a walk!”.
Yes – we’re explicitly allowed to go for a walk, or a bike ride, or something else that lets you get outside and decompress for a bit. This walk has, however, to be “urgent”, which has led to a fair amount of debate on exactly what an “urgent walk” is supposed to be among people who don’t have small kids.
You’re also only allowed to be out in public in the company of people who live in the same household as you do, and any group of five or more is likely to draw attention from any police officers who happen by. Assorted terrifying punishments await transgressors – although the police are supposed to adopt a softly-softly approach at first, ultimately there are fines of over €3000 available for serious offenders and in extreme cases police have powers to break up groups by force. In reality this seems unlikely to happen, especially here in the genteel 18th district of Vienna, but given the blizzard of conflicting “you can do this, you can‘t do this” messages over the last week most people seem to be waiting to see how the first couple of days go in order to calibrate their… er… going-out-acceptabilityometer. And one more thing – when you are out you’re expected to keep a distance of at least a metre from anyone else you meet. This is even the case on public transport, making it just as well that the majority of people are staying at home because to achieve that kind of inter-passenger separation on the famously overcrowded U6 would require a train approximately every two seconds under normal conditions.
Anyway, yes. Day 1. The daughter watched too many movies and did some of the homework she’d been given for school. Then we gave her special permission to establish an area in her room which is, for the next two weeks, hers to make as much mess as she wants in so long as it’s still possible to reach her bed and her brother’s cot without tripping over anything. The intention here is that we can maintain the living room as a slightly more liveable space for grown-ups, although whether we will achieve that for more than two days running remains to be seen.
I got some work done while my other half got some teaching done as the university has cancelled all in-person teaching and ordered academics to instantly move to online teaching instead. The student who immediately asked “Is this exercise compulsory?” at the beginning of the lesson should probably consider themselves quite lucky they weren’t there in person.
So what have we learned so far? Firstly, that nobody has any clue how long this will last. The emergency order is only valid for a week, but it will almost certainly get extended. That in itself is a major form of stress – when you don’t know how many days there are to go, you can’t count them down. Secondly, that nobody even in authority really has any clue of the practicalities of how this will work. The broad brush strokes are in place, but there are a thousand FAQs that simply haven’t been answered yet because nobody has got round to them. The rules of society have been abruptly changed in one of the most disruptive ways possible, and absolutely everyone from the police to the politicians to the general public (that’s me!) is having to feel their way and look for cues as we try and work out exactly how this “new normal” will work. As routine sets in over the next few days I think things will improve, but right now I feel absolutely uncomfortable and stressed in a way I can’t quite describe. The good news is that well, so does everyone else.
Things Amazon delivered today: a case of nappies, two 5kg bags of sushi rice and a pair of espresso glasses. I guess we’re all set for the essentials for the time being.
Addendum: About 15 seconds (really) after I hit “Publish”, we discovered that our 2-year-old has got a fever. To quote the sage Ferris Bueller – live moves pretty fast.