We asked T+L India reader Teodora Ivanova from Bulgaria about the COVID-19 lockdown situation in her country and how she’s keeping up during this bleak time. Here’s what she tells us. By Pallavi Phukan
What were your first thoughts when the lockdown was put in motion?
First, a state of emergency was declared in Bulgaria. That was on Friday the 13th of March. I had to be out that evening; an unusually warm one for March, and I remember wondering what it would be like. After all, luckily not too many times in one’s lifetime a national state of emergency is imposed. I thought the streets of Sofia would be immediately different, I really did not know what life would look like. My first thoughts were — how the day-to-day life would change, what about work, what about the school, what about planned travels, was it really proportionate… The scale of what happened afterwards worldwide did not dawn on me at that particular moment.
As to the lockdown or rather say imposing restrictions, as I do not think we are under complete lockdown, it came gradually afterwards. There was a full lockdown in one of our ski resorts Bansko, but I was not there at the time so could only imagine what it was like.
Maybe I am not that quick in changing my mind-set but I am still at awe how unthinkable things have happened over only a few months. Imagine the world now from the perspective of December 2019; unthinkable! And yet it is here.
Tell us about the ground reality that you are witnessing there during the lockdown. Are there any challenges that you are facing?
There’s a lot of measures that the government has been taking. Most of the routine activities in the hospitals were suspended. All shopping malls, restaurants, cafes and bars were closed. When going into a shop or an institution, people are supposed to enter one or two at a time and queue outside on a 1-2 meters distance. We were mostly restricted to visiting parks and wandering in the nearby mountain area for approximately a month. This all was done in an attempt to achieve social distancing. Later, as an additional measure, we were required to wear masks when being outside or at public places. The economy is suffering, many people, mainly from the tourist and service sector, are with reduced working time, reduced pay or even without a job – that indeed worries me a lot. Not different from the rest of the world, I suppose.
For me personally, the challenges have not been that many. My job can be done almost entirely from home. The kids are having their classes online and I would say they are studying quite adequately. I am sure the challenge is bigger for the older pupils, especially for those facing exams this year, and I fully sympathise with them and their parents. The shopping was a bit of an issue in the beginning as many people were stocking up with food and necessities but that is now over.
On a more mental level, I am concerned about the freedom, opportunities and economy mostly. I grew up in a socialist country and freedom and opportunities mean a lot to me.
What regulations have been implemented by the government there?
A State of Emergency Act was adopted. As a result, many regulations have changed: labour, banking, medical and others. Additional documents regarding certain State subsidies were adopted. The Minister of Health issued orders banning (partial) entry into the country. If you would like to visit Bulgaria at the moment from a country outside EU or from certain listed, severely affected COVID-19 countries, you may not, unless you or a member of your family is permanently residing in Bulgaria or you fall within some of the diplomatic, humanitarian, transportation or other exceptions.
On the other side, there have been no curfews, we have not been completely restricted from leaving our homes; travels outside big cities are possible, under certain circumstances; a lot of routine medical activities have been recently restored too.
Are people allowed to step outdoors at a certain time?
As mentioned, the measures in Bulgari have not been and are not as severe as maybe they are in other countries. There was almost a complete restriction to leave Sofia around the Orthodox Easter for the reasons of protecting our elderly population. A lot of people from Sofia have their extended families in the rest of the country, and naturally, they want to gather for Christmas and Easter. There were huge queues to re-enter Sofia after Easter but this is gone now.
How are you maintaining positivity?
I keep repeating to myself that this is the first time in decades when I can have enough sleep. Normally I wake up before 6:00 am, leave home at about 7:15 am so that the kids are at school at around 8:00 am, and then at work at around 8:15 am. Now I can sleep as long as I need, still start work in time and be quite efficient. So against all odds that makes me feel positive.
Then I have time in the evening to play with the kids. I am not tired of the driving back home in the evening, the traffic and the rush, and have enough energy and willingness, most of the time, to spend some quality time with my children.
Do not want to sound too pastoral but I like baking and this quick access to the satisfaction of producing something with my hands always comforts me.
Lastly and most importantly, I refuse to believe that “the world, as we know it” is over, just hope we all will take our lessons and will become better individuals and a better society, that we will have greater regard for nature, for our families and friends, and for our human values.
Where would you like to travel to once this situation settles down?
Everywhere – sorry for the cliché but I am a Sagittarius. To my parents and my in-laws first. To the Bulgarian mountains: there I feel completely recharged, renewed and at home. To the seaside: although not my passion, but certainly my family’s.
In March I had to cancel a coveted trip to New Delhi for the wedding of a close friend of mine. I was so excited about catching up with my friends there and was very sorry when first, my flights were cancelled, then the borders were closed, and at last, the wedding was cancelled. So certainly one more place — India — to complete my trip and meet my friends.