By Velina Peykova
When the Covid-19 pandemic exploded in Europe mid-March I had the experience of witnessing people’s reactions and frustrations from two separate viewpoints: the first being from a Continental European perspective and the second coming from the United Kingdom.
After the initial panic of students trying to return back to their homes before the pandemic stopped them from doing so, I made the decision to remain in Durham and was only able to return to Bulgaria mid-June. When the first coronavirus measures were implemented in the UK, they seemed quite negligent to me.
While the UK was imposing a two-meter distance rule in shops, my home country was imposing drastic measures and colossal fines for those who did not follow them. The state of emergency – almost complete lockdown in Bulgaria – lasted two and a half months. After this many of the restrictions were lifted. It remains obligatory to wear masks in public spaces.
In contrast, the UK did not take the such drastic measures as Bulgaria, and did not move so quickly. In many ways the imposition of restrictions was quite subtle and layered, yet still effective. While the UK lockdown was seemingly prolonged compared to other European countries, the more relaxed restrictions make up for it.
In a way, I suppose this major difference in approaches to the pandemic reflects on how the population, and especially the younger generation, reacted to the lockdown. While I was still in the UK, I noticed how well restrictions were being followed in Durham. Market Square, Palace Green and town in general were almost always empty, and when they weren’t, people were making sure to social distance. I even once witnessed two young people having Costa takeaway in Market Square and chatting away, all while social distancing.
The regulations in the UK were strict enough to enforce some sensible level of protection against the spread of the virus, while also not being so imposing as to create a huge burden on the population. People could follow regulation while still enjoying some elements of everyday life.
In Bulgaria, people went very quickly from state-mandated heavy lockdown, to life resuming almost the same as before. Young Bulgarians wasted no time flocking to the seaside or to nearby countries, opting to escape the city and its still-policed state. Restaurants and cafes are jam-packed with people, and the only thing that remains a reminder of the pandemic threat is the state-mandated masks when in public.
On this I can conclude that, from my observations, the reactions towards lockdown were similar but had very significant variations in both countries. During the actual two and a half month lockdown, Bulgarians were fuelled by fear. They were extremely careful not to break the strict regulations or agitate the system, due to the consequences being financially severe.
In contrast, while the UK did have regulations that limited everyday life, they were crafted in such a way that people could still enjoy certain elements of normality while also being cautious to follow regulations. In a sense, both countries seemed to follow lockdown regulations very carefully, until the regulations were relaxed. With the looming threat of gross fines being somewhat lifted, life seems to have returned in many ways to its relaxed pre-Covid-19 state.
Illustration by Elle Woods-Marshall