• Mary MacCarthy

A pandemic journey from Kathmandu to Reykjavik

Updated: May 6, 2020

Gloria Lihemo is a Kenyan writer and international development worker whose pandemic story spans the globe. It starts in one country then continues in another - two very different nations that both have had remarkable success containing Covid-19.

Kathmandu bakery delivering bread during lock down

Gloria lives and works in Nepal, which - out of a population of 29 million people - reports just sixty cases of Covid, and zero deaths. This is attributed to the nation having implemented a strict nationwide lock down on March 24, when there were just a few confirmed cases of infection. A few weeks into the lock down, Gloria’s husband’s company repatriated them to his homeland of Iceland. As an island nation that’s sparsely populated - just 364,000 residents - Iceland doesn’t face the same challenges as most countries, or even most cities, when it comes to fighting infectious diseases. It has been able to contain the spread of the virus with just a loose, partial shutdown - supported by a robust testing program for which it has received widespread praise. Iceland reports just ten deaths from Covid. Gloria spoke to our reporter Midhat Ali Zaidi: HOW ARE YOU GETTING BY? I live and work in Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal. I travel quite often and had plans to go to Bhutan for a long weekend, then to a conference in Morocco - both of which were obviously cancelled as countries started shutting down their borders. My husband had just traveled back to Nepal when the first case of coronavirus was announced in March. He had to self-isolate in the spare bedroom for 14 days, and we had to split kitchen utensils, which wasn’t a very successful endeavor.

Airport in Kathmandu when Gloria and her husband were leaving on a flight chartered by the German embassy

Lockdown in Nepal meant not leaving the house at all, not even to go out for a walk. Supermarkets were open only for a couple of hours a day, and it was very random - you wouldn’t know when. But on the flip side, the air felt much fresher and the skies were blue, which is unusual for Kathmandu. In early April, my husband’s office repatriated its international staff along with their families to Europe. It took five flights and over 40 hours to get to his homeland of Iceland, whereas ordinarily it takes about 30 hours. We transited through Doha, Munich, Düsseldorf, London, then finally arrived in Reykjavík.

In Iceland we had to do the mandatory 14-day self isolation. While we were allowed to go out for walks, we couldn’t go to the supermarket, and had to have relatives deliver the groceries to us.

Post-quarantine life in Iceland, with Gloria's husband's family

Now, the most challenging thing is the 6-hour time difference with Nepal, as we are both working remotely. I have meetings as early as 3 a.m, which makes for very long work days. But I guess this sort of defines how most of us will be working going forward.

We just finished the 14-day quarantine and can now go to public places and meet with family and friends. Iceland hasn’t implemented strict quarantine measures, they are instead focusing on testing and tracing, which seems to be working given the relatively few cases of Covid-related deaths. Restaurants and some shops are open, and supermarkets appear to be business as usual. You are allowed to have dinner parties of fewer than 10 people. I’m busy with work most weekdays. On weekends, I work on revamping my travel blog, Midlife Safaris. I also sort out photos from previous travels, and work on new posts that I previously didn’t have time to write. I’m trying to do as much yoga as I can through virtual Zoom sessions. Now that we are out of lock down, I look forward to exploring some of Iceland’s spots that are still open.

Gloria is lucky to be in a country in which many spots are still open - so she plans to do some exploring, which will make for some exciting entries to her travel blog.

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