'It's a bit apocalyptic' - South African man in Paris coronavirus lockdown

Confined to a 30 square metre apartment in Paris, France, Chris Saunders has found innovative ways to practise social distancing in the company of his friends and family amid a lockdown to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus (Covid-19).

"Tonight, we're having a digital dinner with my fiancée's brother and her parents who live close to Lake Geneva. We're all going to have dinner over teleconference, that should be interesting," Saunders explained.

Saunders is a director and photographer from South Africa who has lived in Paris for the past four years.

On Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron announced a lockdown amid the threat of Covid-19, telling people in the country to stay at home unless they wanted to buy groceries, walk their dog, exercise or seek medical care.

On Sunday, the country recorded 127 deaths and 5 423 positive cases of the virus.

"It's a good thing we have a dog," Saunders told News24.

A once bustling area with busy little shops and a strong community spirit, the streets of Paris are now barren.

"This is a city that lives on the street, so it's strange – a bit apocalyptic."

'People started going mad'

Saunders said he definitely felt the anticipation of "something coming" and by the time Covid-19 was announced as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO), people started to panic.

Before that, there was optimism for a solution or a plan to contain the virus.

But panic set in before the lockdown was announced, as "people started going mad", Saunders said.

"Parisians are normally vocal, anti-establishment, anti-control type of people, so to see them comply with a government order like this is unusual for their culture.

"At the moment, people are adhering and following the restrictions. We saw the supermarket madness, everybody wearing protection and keeping their distance – it changed quite quickly within two days," Saunders said.

The virus has certainly spread rapidly enough in France to warrant this panic, but Saunders said a key contributor to this was a lack of communication from government.

"At the beginning, the unfortunate lockdown should have been earlier," he said.

"People need to stay home. That seems to be the only approach because we don't know enough about how [Covid-19] spreads and how easy it is to spread. I think South Africa should go into the next phase to stop it where it is.

"If you think about how people take public transport… we live in bustling cities where people walk around and use public transport, so it's easier to spread a disease like this."

Advice to South Africans

Saunders has felt the effects of the outbreak too, having had major projects cancelled, travel plans put on hold and while he is doing well financially, "money doesn't last forever".

The South African government needed to be open with its people, Saunders added, and hold them in its confidence on the plan not only to tackle the virus, but its impact on the economy too.

"We really need to start thinking about how people can help each other," he added.

Saunders has adjusted to the lockdown and his new way of life in a short period of time, having created a more relaxed routine.

Now, he wakes up later, dresses in comfortable clothes, spends time with his fiancée and cleans "like a crazy cleaning guy".

Back home, many South Africans are experiencing the same thing now, working from home and being told to avoid large social gatherings to prevent catching the deadly virus.

But Saunders has a few tips for his compatriots to make the most of their time at home.

"Read lots of books, keep communication with your friends and family and lots of cooking and cool activities. We're doing an Instagram yoga tomorrow with friends. I think you need to exercise and keep your schedule, try not to become too much like you're on holiday.

"But also enjoy the time, think of new projects [you can do], try to be as positive as you can about the things you can do," Saunders said.

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