Mental pressure, stoicism and dating apps - Foreigners on life in Czechia during Covid pandemic
Living as a foreigner in the Czech Republic during the coronavirus pandemic, does have its downsides. Those who spoke to Radio Prague International particularly stress the difficulty in visiting their families, but many also say that they have gotten used to living under lockdown. Several have noted that Czechs are disciplined, but distrust the government measures.
A year has passed since the COVID-19 coronavirus first arrived in the Czech Republic. Back in March 2020, Radio Prague International interviewed several foreigners living in the country about how they are coping with what was then a severe country-wide lockdown during the initial months of the epidemic.
The country went out of that lockdown period during the spring and summer months as a successful international example in how to tackle the epidemic. However, things have heavily deteriorated since then and Czechia is currently among the worst hit countries in the world going into yet another severe lockdown almost exactly 12 months later.
The past year of ups and downs has not been easy for anyone, but the lack of contact can be all the harder if you are living in a foreign country, away from relatives and facing a language barrier.
The restrictions on travel have been particularly hard on people who come from outside of Europe, undertake long flights and have to plan their travel carefully. For Pacy from Rwanda, the coronavirus epidemic also came just at the time when her father had retired.
“We rely heavily on WhatsApp and sending each other pictures. It is tough not being there for my family. My father retired recently and we thought we would go [to Rwanda] and support him. He had worked for the same company for 30 years and we wanted to support him in a way, but could not.
"I think it is challenging. Sure, we cannot afford to go there three times a year. But now, due to the pandemic, there are also limited opportunities to travel home. There is this concern about your parents who are older and that if someone has other health problems they are more susceptible to the virus. It is very challenging.”
Morocco-born Hind faced similar problems. She also says that the sudden lockdown was challenging at the start. Even more so since her husband, who works at a hospital, was constantly away and more likely to be exposed to the virus.
“As a foreigner here I do not have anyone to spend time with, so I am just alone at home with my two-year-old child.
"I even stopped speaking with my parents via Facebook and WhatsApp because I did not want to hear that they may have fallen sick or that something had happened to them. I started being very paranoid and my mental health was not alright for about two months. After a while though, I started focusing on the positives and the bad mood passed.”
Both women have since been able to visit their relatives, but this has not been possible for everyone. For example, Alain from France, says that he had to cancel his trip due to the sudden change in coronavirus measures.
“I was supposed to be back in France for holidays and see my family. However, both times when I planned to go it had to be cancelled, because it was during the February and July peaks. So, yes, I just stayed in Prague.”
Tina from Moldova had to spend her first Christmas alone last year, due to the second wave of the epidemic and general uncertainty about the situation in both Czechia and her homeland.
“I can’t go and visit my parents, because the rules are changing constantly and we do not know what will happen, so we cannot plan ahead.
"I have not seen them for over a year. Of course it is impacting me mentally and emotionally. It is not good for overall health in the long run.”
When she spoke to Radio Prague International last March, she was among the best prepared people for the lockdown, having tracked the developing epidemic since it first appeared in China and secured all of the necessary personal protective equipment. However, now she believes that the time for lockdowns has passed.
“I am not concerned now. I think the lockdowns are too long and I think that we need to have certain deadlines so that people and businesses know how to get on with things and earn money.”
Others are more stoical in their attitude to lockdowns, seeing them largely as inevitable given the current situation and even think that what is lacking is a stronger hand.
Asked about what contrasts she noticed between the way Czechia and her home country have handled the restrictions, Hind said that when she was in Morroco, she noticed the police were far stricter in enforcing the measures.
“The police were outside and really strict. They immediately made you pay a fee if they saw you are not wearing a mask. Here, you sometimes see people not wearing a mask and the police do not seem to care. I think that they were not strict enough since the beginning and that the people are not afraid enough to take the government restrictions as seriously.
"So here we are in this situation all over again. Czechs are not really afraid of their government. They are also either not taking the virus seriously enough or just tired of the measures.”
Pacy believes the current situation is partly down to fatigue following a mishandling by the executive.
“People certainly kept their distance during the first wave. No one would visit anyone. There was no one to talk to, no one to meet. Everyone was really respecting the government measures, being very attentive and careful. I noticed that when the time comes, Czech people really do respect the measures when the time comes.
"I also feel that the government really tried their best but they lacked a strategy.”
Most of the interviewees who spoke to Radio Prague International highlighted that they were impressed by the way Czechs kept their discipline during the initial months, but agreed that the government’s management has left many of their Czech friends disillusioned.
Hersha, who is from India and lives in Prague with his Slovak wife, says that he had not encountered this sceptical attitude before.
“I do have a few Czech friends and I have to agree that they took it really seriously at the start. However, after six months they felt cheated by the government that everyone is lying to them and no one is saying the truth and they gave up their discipline.
"As I know them, Czechs are very disciplined and responsible people, but I got the feeling that they felt cheated, or that the government was hiding something and that there is no way to avoid this whole coronavirus situation and that one should just let it go.
"I do not see Czechs as sceptical people, but I get the impression of scepticism far more after the coronavirus epidemic. There might be historical reasons behind it, such as the experience of communism perhaps.”
This lack of trust in repeated government appeals to respect the measures in light of the severity of the crisis may have been partly undermined during the summer, when several leading personalities, including the former president Václav Klaus spoke out against treating the coronavirus epidemic as a serious crisis.
However, even several health experts, who are now calling for a period of very hard lockdown, are critical of the government approach, which they see as too slow and affected by political calculations.
Not all of the people we spoke to share Hersha’s impression of Czechs being sceptical in this regard. Pierre from France, who is in his 20s, feels that the Czechs are more disciplined than his compatriots in France. He confesses that he and his friends have been breaking the restriction on social gatherings on occasions. In a strange way this, itself, may be seen as a replacement for family at the current time.
“In comparison to before we are much more of a closed group. I think I have been seeing the same people for the past five or six months.
"I am a bit of a loner and I do not mind staying alone at home, but at some point I have to see other people, or else I would go a bit crazy.”
His friend Jaques says that the coronavirus epidemic has also led to dating apps being more or less the only way someone can meet a new person of the opposite sex.