Kuta, Indonesia: A bright orange sun sinks into the Indian Ocean, its last rays casting pastel shades of purples and reds through gathering clouds that darken in each passing moment on the horizon.
The last surfers take catch their wave breaks and come ashore for the night.
An Australian couple, each in their seventies, are savouring this last sunset of their holiday. In the morning, they return to Perth. And after two weeks here in this tropical paradise, they return to two weeks of government-enforced self-isolation.
“The Australian Prime Minister has just announced that we have to go into quarantine,” she says. “I have medical appointments but I won’t be allowed to go to them.” She lists off a range of conditions, asthma, high blood pressure, a heart condition – all putting her at high risk if she or someone close contracts Covid-19.
Other Aussies are taking the mandatory lockdown order with a pinch of salt and an ounce of bravado.
“How are they going to enforce it,” one pot-bellied miner asks. The answer is stark. “If you show up for work and you’re reported, you can be jailed and fined A$13,000 (Dh29,400),” answers another.
Suddenly, this coronavirus scare is no laughing matter for the Australian.
Quarantine in Norway
There’s a WhatsApp call. It’s Scott, my step son, on video from a small town high in the middle of Norway. There snow is deep, the temperatures are cold and it’s right in the middle of the ski and snowboard season. In Hemsedal and many other ski resorts, this is the time of the year when the money is made to carry businesses through the year.
“Mom,” he says, “I’m in quarantine. The doctors say me and Mette have to self-isolate for 14 days.”
Since 9:30 that morning, Scott and Mette have been told to lock themselves away. He works managing a sports bar and bowling alley. She works in a main hotel in the resort on reception but also helping out cleaning rooms.
Scott explains that a Danish couple who were staying at the hotel tested positive for the virus. Mette cleaned their room and also interacted with them at the reception desk.
Easter, the holiday that falls at the end of the first week of April this year, is the climax of the ski season. Not now. Not this year. The Norwegian government has shut down the resorts and banned public gatherings.
“I’m getting paid for the next two weeks, but that’s it. That’s the season done.”
Netflix and non-stop gaming
His younger brother, Elliot, has been in isolation at his friends’ house for more than a week now. The friends’ family were in contact with someone from their school who had returned from a week’s holiday in Italy and also tested positive. For Elliot, self-isolation has meant no school, no homework and he can’t pet his dogs when his mother, Fiona, drops by for a conversation through windows designed to keep Norway’s winter out. She can talk to him and see him, much like a lawyer talking to a convict through prison plexiglass. But Elliot can at least spend hours binge-watching Netflix and gaming non-stop on PlayStation.
At least when Scott and Mette are in isolation, they won’t be able to spend much money. “One of us will be allowed to go to shop but there’s very little on the shelves anyway.” They do, however, have a well-stock fridge and freezer. When the hotels were ordered to shut, they gave much of their extra food supplies to the staff so it wouldn’t go to waste.
On Saturday night, before they were told to go into isolation, Scott was at a hot-tub party with 16 other buddies. They’ll also need to isolate.
But Scott’s summer seasonal work is also in doubt. In Norway, when the sun shines and people gather for festivals and concerts, Scott makes his summer money setting up stages and fences, putting all of the events’ infrastructure in place. Right now, no one knows if the ban of large gatherings will be over by then.
Scott’s other brother, Jake, had planned to meet them there when he flew back from working in New Zealand on a two-year visa. Jake has cancelled his flight and hopes that the Kiwi government will allow him to extend his temporary work visa for a couple more months until the crisis passes. He’s been working in bars, but if the crisis gets worse, then New Zealand might very well follow the actions of others and shut down bars.
“How’s the surf?” Scott asks, checking out the Bali waves over the videocall as best he can. He has a degree in sports sciences from the UK and is a surfing fanatic, having grown up riding the waves on Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands off the western Atlantic coast of Morocco.
Scott and Mette had planned to head to Lanzarote to catch up with their friends at the end of March. That won’t be happening – Spain is in lockdown and, as of Monday night, thousands of tourists are trying to be airlifted home.
My cousin Maura is one of them. She’s been going for Lanzarote for years now, always to the same resort town of Puerto Del Carmen.
“The Spanish government has locked the country down,” she says on Viber messaging. The Irish government and airlines are in talks trying to get as many planes to take all of the stranded holidaymakers home as best they can.
“Haven’t heard yet but hoping to get home on Tuesday,” she writes optimistically.
Brexit, virus kill optimism
Optimism is in short supply for Scott’s life-long friend Tommy. Their mothers have been selling real estate together to British expats and others who dream of a life in the sun. Brexit was a blow that stopped a lot of Britons from buying. Now coronavirus. The pair of agents haven’t had as much as a single enquiry from anywhere in Europe – or anywhere else – since it took hold. And with Spain in lockdown until the end of the month, it will be weeks before there’s any interest. One deal they have in the pipeline looks shaky now – the notary offices, the legal officials who approve the transactions – are closed until further notice.
Tommy always wanted to open a restaurant . With the help of his mother, bank loans and six months of setbacks, Tommy opened his café in Famara, catering to surfers and tourists in early December. Now, four months in, he’s been ordered to close – just like every other of countless tens of thousands of cafes, bars and restaurants catering to the nation of 37 million and the 80 million visitors who visited Spain last year. His dozen or so staff are laid off, he still has overheads of €4,000 (Dh16,350) to cover each month now, and who knows how long it will be before he can re-open, and then build up the business again to tourists who will need to feel comfortable travelling once more.
And because Tommy and his girlfriend Maria have been in contact with so many people at their dream café, they’ve also been ordered into self-isolation.
When Maura does make it back to Ireland, she won’t be able to return to her job in the records section of a Dublin hospital. Too many sick people in vulnerable categories to be risk being exposed to a clerk who was holidaying in Spain and may have been in contact with the virus, or someone who might have been.
It’s enough to drive a person to drink – if only the pubs in Ireland were open. They’re not. The country too is mostly shut down. Schools have been closed and public gatherings of more than a hundred people are also banned. On Sunday night, the government warned against people hosting Covid-19 house parties as a way of keeping spirits up.
Emma, my daughter, also calls on WhatsApp. She’s a schoolteacher and spent four years teaching in Abu Dhabi before travelling to New Zealand and then returning to Ireland to her old school.
“We were told by email the night before that there was a chance the schools would be closing,” she says. “Then the next morning, at 11:30, we were told we would be shutting down at 3pm until at least the end of March.”
It’s not that children have been infected, it because children are more likely to be carriers and will have inadvertent contact with the elderly and those with weakened immune systems. The Irish government, its health and education departments, have gone to great lengths to explain all of the risks and why the steps have been taken.
It’s information that Julie – Scott’s aunt, a social worker in a school in Derbyshire in the UK – has had Emma pass on. Julie has since passed into onto her school principle and distribute to staff when the time comes to close down schools there too.
But Julie is worried about her eldest son, Declan, just finishing his degree in Nursing at a university in Leeds in northern England. He’s been working flat out dealing with the coronavirus crisis and Julie’s afraid he might catch it. Julie’s Dad, you see, is elderly and is in an at-risk category. On Sunday, the UK’s health minister mused that those over 70 might have to self-isolate for four months until the worst of the crisis is over.
“How’s that going to work?” she asks over the videocall.
No one knows the answer. Not in Ireland, Spain, Norway or Bali. The only sure thing is that with every glorious sunset from the western side of the island of Bali, there’s a glorious sunrise to its east. That’s something to look forward too – and it can’t come soon enough
Mick O’Reilly is the Gulf News Foreign Correspondent based in Europe