When Arianna U’s travels around the globe drew to a close in January, the young Macau resident thought she would visit some family members in the United States of America for the Lunar New Year before heading back to Macau.
That was in the very early days of the coronavirus pandemic, when Macau was recording its first few infections. Fearing the Covid-19 outbreak in China, as well as its spread to Hong Kong and Macau, U decided to postpone her plans to return home.
Instead, she flew by plane to Norway’s capital Oslo, hoping to visit friends and search for job opportunities, while waiting to return to Macau when the situation improved. Unfortunately, this did not transpire. Due to the outbreak spreading worldwide, U soon realized that her stay in Norway would be much longer than what she had originally expected.
“At the time I left, the U.S. was already having this outbreak,” U told the Times in a phone interview yesterday. “Norway closed its borders just a few days after I entered the country,” meaning that she had no other choice but to stay until conditions improved.
With the lockdown in Norway spanning from mid-March to mid-April, the job market also suffered and U’s attempts to find work were put on hold. Instead she dedicated time to getting to know more of the local culture and walking in nature.
Having been stranded in the Scandinavian country for several months, U could not help but reflect on one of the most striking aspects of the Covid-19 situation: how different countries and regions have adopted very different approaches to containing the virus outbreak.
“Since late April there was not a big sense of Covid-19 being a big problem in Norway – even in the capital city where most of the cases were reported,” she said, drawing contrasts with the seriousness of Macau and China.
“Even during that [outbreak] period, people were often seen out like nothing was happening. They continued to go to the parks, barbecue, hiking, and camping. Everything felt normal,” said U. “I also took the time to enjoy nature, although I avoided gatherings with a lot of people.”
U said that Norway was a good place to be during the peak of the Covid-19 outbreak because the country’s policies were the same for both nationals and foreigners.
“As a foreigner, if I get [infected] with coronavirus, the government will treat me in the same way as their own citizens,” she explained. “You don’t need to worry about anything regarding medical fees and other [issues] that are a concern in many other countries.”
The same applied to her visa, which expired after about 45 days in Norway. The government waived the renewal fee and granted an automatic extension of all visas until people found a way to leave the country and return to their homes.
Finally, back in Macau
“I finally managed to get out of Norway when the Macau government announced the arrangements for the special ferry [from Hong Kong International Airport to Macau],” U told the Times, adding that it had not been possible earlier because “it was required to have a Covid-19 negative test proof to board the plane, which in Norway is impossible to get since there is no way for you to request to be tested if you don’t have severe symptoms [of the disease].”
With the new arrangements, U boarded a plane that took her to Hong Kong, before crossing to Macau this month. That’s where the reverse culture shock started.
Having spent most of the pandemic in Norway, where masks are seldom used, U wore a facemask on the flight for the time since the coronavirus outbreak began.
“In Norway, the use of masks is not generalized and except for elderly [people] and people that have medical conditions, most people do not wear facemasks because they can’t buy them. They were not for sale anywhere in the beginning, and they only became available later. During March, April, and May, it was almost impossible to get a mask.”
Social distancing measures were also not as strict as U thought they would be during the flight.
“I thought that the plane would be very empty and that people would be seated very far apart from each other, but that didn’t happen. I had a person right next to me, just with one vacant seat between us. It was a pretty normal flight.”
Then, after landing in Hong Kong and crossing to Macau, U said she was “shocked” to see the apparatus used by the local health authorities.
“There were so many medical staff there on standby and they were super-prepared, all dressed [in PPE] from head to toe, all in white. That image was a little bit scary to find at 2 a.m. and they handled everyone like if they really had something super-dangerous, so I was a little bit nervous,” she said. “I knew it was strict [in Macau] but I didn’t know that it was that strict.”