The Italian Government has strengthened up its quarantine rules, shutting all commercial activities except for pharmacies, food shops, gas stations, tobacco stores and news kiosks in a bid to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. Picture: Getty
The Italian Government has strengthened up its quarantine rules, shutting all commercial activities except for pharmacies, food shops, gas stations, tobacco stores and news kiosks in a bid to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. Picture: Getty

How coronavirus is impacting families around the world

It was early morning and my phone was vibrating like a contented cat.

I'm not a morning person, so I immediately wondered what fresh catastrophe had erupted overnight. My husband wandered past with his own phone, shaking his head and muttering about a stock market bloodbath.

My phone kept buzzing, a new message alert sounding every few seconds. They were coming in fast from overseas friends in a WhatsApp group called Tequila 2021, an optimistic reference to a suggested reunion in Mexico next year.

The conversation was firing by the time I joined: there were 65 messages and they haven't stopped since. It was all about the coronavirus.

This particular WhatsApp group is unusual. We're not Australians living abroad, we're made up of a large number of different nationalities. Between 1989 and 1991, we lived and studied together among a cohort of scholarship students from 75 countries at an International Baccalaureate (IB) college on Vancouver Island in Canada.

The Italian Government has strengthened up its quarantine rules, shutting all commercial activities except for pharmacies, food shops, gas stations, tobacco stores and news kiosks in a bid to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. Picture: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty
The Italian Government has strengthened up its quarantine rules, shutting all commercial activities except for pharmacies, food shops, gas stations, tobacco stores and news kiosks in a bid to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. Picture: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty

I was with German friends on the night the Berlin Wall came down, their euphoria tempered by the agony and disbelief that they were on the other side of the world, in some sense missing the most significant moment of their lives.

When Nelson Mandela was released from jail, I celebrated the new dawn with South African friends who are now in Tequila 2021.

When the first Gulf War broke out, I watched as American and Middle Eastern roommates navigated their own diplomatic resolution.

Thirty years later, the world is a very different place, but the important things don't change much between friends with this much history. We've had reunions at the college, we've attended each other's weddings, we've gathered for group holidays, slept on each other's floors, hosted each other's kids and, because the world is smaller and funnier than we give it credit for, we've even run into each other on the streets of foreign cities.

And now, we're spread all over the world, talking to each other about how our different countries are responding to the coronavirus crisis.

Based in Belgium, the French wife of a Spanish college friend kicked off this morning's avalanche of infection updates to let us know their European Commission colleagues will be teleworking from now on and European schools are closing for a month.

‘I have the coronavirus’: this image of an Spanish man was shared in the WhatsApp group. Picture: supplied
‘I have the coronavirus’: this image of an Spanish man was shared in the WhatsApp group. Picture: supplied

Two minutes later, a Dutch friend said meeting sizes were restricted and telework encouraged for all who can. His next message, sent a minute later, conveyed his true crisis, one he shares with the Spaniard: "No football for a month," he wrote.

His wife shot back: "I can live with that!"

A Norwegian friend confirmed a minute later schools and kindergartens have closed there. All sports and cultural events have been cancelled. "Complete lock down here," she wrote.

Next came the news that the West Coast of Canada is taking a … er … leaf out of Australia's book. "Still hasn't hit us yet, but toilet paper is flying off the shelves," he said.

Another friend chimed in, "I'm in Manizales, Colombia. Schools are closed after Easter Week. Children will have virtual classes. Here too TP is a concern, along with cleaning products, milk and basic stuff that (has) quickly run off the shelves."

Back in the Netherlands, the Dutchman posted a picture of smiling colleagues raiding the office wine cellar. "Lock-down party at my office this afternoon. Til we meet again!" he wrote of the grinning group.

A sober follow up arrived from his wife about their youngest child: "We're keeping E home as of tomorrow because of her sensitive immune system."

People in Utrecht, Netherlands, line up at a legal cannabis shop before all retail was closed down for the coronavirus shutdown. Picture: Supplied.
People in Utrecht, Netherlands, line up at a legal cannabis shop before all retail was closed down for the coronavirus shutdown. Picture: Supplied.

Our Egyptian friend is currently in transit. She is someone who has already seen some serious action through her work as a Middle East correspondent with the Associated Press (I am sometimes nearly sick with worry for her safety).

"I am in Turkey travelling back to Beirut and I have an Egyptian passport!" she wrote. "All very inflammable. Big mess."

The Dutchman's wife agreed: "It is! I work within the Dutch healthcare system and hear lots of professionals who have no idea what to do!"

A Pakistani filmmaker friend in the US delivered more news: "And NYC just declared a state of emergency."

North of the border, an update from Ottawa was next. "Trudeau is self-isolating after his spouse developed a fever upon return from the UK," he wrote. "He was supposed to chair a meeting with provinces and indigenous leaders in Catherine's work building but it was cancelled at the last minute. And Ontario schools will now be closed from Monday for three weeks."

A speedy volley from the Netherlands: "Trudeau self-isolating … maybe that'll be good for the country!"

An update from the Egyptian: "Restaurants and pubs are ordered shut in Lebanon."

This is when an Irish friend in London joined the conversation. "Oh man, all of these posts are making me wonder why on earth BoJo has yet to implement similar measures!" she wrote.

Women in Rome disinfect their hands in Piazza Venezia in Rome. Picture: Alfredo Falcone/AP
Women in Rome disinfect their hands in Piazza Venezia in Rome. Picture: Alfredo Falcone/AP

"We are heading to the country tomorrow and will assess whether we come back. Offices are asking people to work from home but schools are still open and there are no restrictions on events."

After a flurry of pantry photos and jokes about cans of beans and stockpiling emergency alcohol, one of our Italian friends brought us back to Earth with an uncomfortable thud. "I feel compelled to say that if anything, the effect of COVID-19 here in Italy has been underestimated, not the opposite," she said. "In the regions where the virus has spread, our richest, (the) health system has quickly gone under a terrible strain. Our doctors are the most vocal in asking for very strict measures to kerb the epidemics.

"Please, if any one of you has a way to be heard in your own countries, convince those who can decide to prepare for this kind of impact. Acting now with sensible measures can spare or at least contain really dire consequences."

She added: "Sorry guys. I really feel you should know … all this story of 'little more than a flu' has produced lots of damage here."

So, here we are. Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson pressed a lot of flesh during their travels in Australia, all while having coronavirus, but my Sydney ferry was still at capacity this morning.

My two kids are still in school. Most of us here are still coming into the office. A throat-clearing cough is enough to make my colleagues jumpy and I keep forgetting not to touch the balustrade in the central stairwell.

What do you think? Are we listening hard enough?

Diana Jenkins is a News Corp Australia commercial partnerships editor.

Coronavirus has dominated my WhatsApp group. Picture: supplied
Coronavirus has dominated my WhatsApp group. Picture: supplied

Woman collides with pole on Warrego Hwy

Premium Content Woman collides with pole on Warrego Hwy

A WOMAN has been taken to hospital following a traffic accident on the highway.

Candidates reveal what they will do for Lockyer if elected

Premium Content Candidates reveal what they will do for Lockyer if elected

WANT to know what the candidates will do if they are elected? Here’s their...

Woman taken to watchhouse, banned from visiting local pubs

Premium Content Woman taken to watchhouse, banned from visiting local pubs

A WOMAN has been busted by police at a local watering hole, and told not to return...