“It is closed according to government orders”, says this sign from a cafeteria in Uherské Hradiště. Photo: Celia Pérez
CELIA PÉREZ CARRASCOSA
It was 9:30 on Tuesday, March 10th when I arrived at Akropolis – a family centre – to teach Spanish as usual. That day only one student came to class and we were talking about COVID-19. In the same morning the Czech government approved measures to stop the spread of the new virus despite registering around 60 people infected. These measures included the closure of schools, secondary schools and universities.
At two o’clock in the afternoon I had Spanish class at Gymnázium Uherské Hradiště – a secondary school and high school. Before I went there, I found out if the school was still open. I went there and the Spanish teacher told me that the school would be closed at six in the afternoon. So, I gave what was my last Spanish lesson for the foreseeable future. The students were not worried, since it is not so bad for teenagers to spend a few days on holiday. This was only the beginning of many changes in the Czech Republic and throughout Europe.
Implementation and testing of measures against COVID-19
It was on Thursday the 12th that I became really aware of the seriousness of the coronavirus and all that the measures taken against it entailed. On that day the Czech government decreed a nationwide state of emergency for the next 30 days and it impacted me and my flatmates and work colleagues directly.
A colleague had been in Vienna on Wednesday and was in Bratislava on the same day. One of the new measures dictated that anyone with a Czech or residence permit who had been in Austria, among other countries, had to be quarantined for a fortnight from Saturday 14th March.
The staff and management of Akropolis were concerned. They decided that when my colleague returned from Bratislava, as he had been through Austria before, he would be in our flat for a fortnight. This made me understand without any doubt the seriousness of the situation in the country and in Europe. It is worth noting that my colleague has now been in quarantine since Friday 13th and has not shown any symptoms. This measure was taken as a precaution.
As everything happened so quickly, Akropolis thought it would be the best if we spent Thursday night at the family centre and that they would soon find another place for us. I quickly accepted that my colleague would stay in the flat, but at the same time I felt slightly angry about having to move to another place and about sleeping in Akropolis – the same place where I work – even though my colleague constantly repeated that he was perfectly fine. At the same time I told myself that it was the most logical and the most appropriate thing to do. The management of Akropolis told us to go to the flat and get our things before our companion arrived.
That same afternoon I had Spanish lessons at Akropolis, which were also cancelled despite the fact that there were five of us including me. But Akropolis did not want to take any chances and suspended all activities. I wrote and called my students to tell them the news.
I had Czech lessons that afternoon too. I called the teacher to tell him that I would not be coming to class and explained why. He, who is also a friend, offered to help. We went to our flat and picked up our things. Honestly, it was a funny moment full of laughter. One of the neighbours gave us a funny look when she saw us leave with our luggage on the day that the state of emergency was declared.
As agreed, my colleague and I spent the night in Akropolis. However, before that we went to drink the last Czech beer with some friends in a well-known brewery in Uherské Hradiště until it is not clear when. We were not the only ones. I could see many Czechs enjoying their last beer in a bar for many days.
The next day, Friday the 13th, my companion and I went to the guesthouse that Akropolis had found for us, a pension in the centre of the town. Now that everything is closed! From the very first moment we made this situation fun. We called the guesthouse where we stayed Pensión Loli, as we both watched the famous Spanish series Aquí no hay quien viva and we remembered that many of the characters stayed in this guesthouse from time to time.
That afternoon we went to buy food, since most of our provisions were in our apartment. The positive side of all this is that we thought that our colleague would not have a shortage of food for a good season. At least that is what we thought.
One of the measures of the state of emergency was that restaurants, bars and cafeterias should be closed. However, there was one exception: those premises that had a window could continue working.
On the way to the supermarket, we could see that a bar was selling beer in plastic cups through the window. It was funny and authentic to see once again that, even at times like these, the Czech beer culture remains alive as always. We did not consume the beer from that bar, but our shopping list included wine and beer. This is how we opened the first night in the guesthouse.
On Sunday 15th I read in the Czech press that the Czech Republic would probably be in quarantine until Tuesday 26th March. And so it happened. For this reason, I went alone for a short walk through the town and along the river, as this was allowed. I barely came across any people on the street. It seemed that the Czechs had become aware of the situation and respected the new measures that had been established. Yesterday, 23th March, the Czech government decided to extend quarentine until 1st April.
On Tuesday 17th I heard the announcement from the Uherské Hradiště Town Hall on the loudspeaker which warned that as of 18th March when people go shopping or for any other need; they should wear a mask as a precautionary measure. On that day I received a mask made by Akropolis, since Akropolis made masks for us and for the residence for the elderly.
A little over a week things in Uherské Hradiště have changed a lot. The atmosphere in the town has become somewhat tense and quieter than usual. The first weekend of March I had a long-awaited visit from Spain and in a few days the measures against the outbreak of coronavirus in both Spain and the Czech Republic have been hardened quite a bit. And, in general, across the EU.
Despite not being in Spain, I have to say that I feel at home. I am grateful to Akropolis for its speed and effectiveness in the face of the problem and for the support it gives us. At the same time, I am very grateful to the friends I have made in the Czech Republic who have been willing to help without hesitation. And, of course, thanks to my family and friends who, although far away from me, support each other at a distance.
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