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Vienna: Families facing Corona around the kitchen table

I’ve felt like I’m on autopilot for a little over two weeks now. Stay home, do what needs to be done, support those who need support, and try not to overthink your own situation.

A lot has changed in my immediate surroundings. Two large gatherings took place within my family, a funeral and a brunch, during which we discussed the implications of the coronavirus on our daily lives. On both occasions, my grandma managed to convert the complexity of the situation into two simple statements.

"Now I'm the only grandma they still have." My grandma's statement after the funeral.

I left Madrid to go to my grandmother's funeral. The city of Madrid was the current home of my master cohort and the last stop on our journey to successfully complete our master degree. Like all over the world, the spread of the coronavirus in Europe forced several European countries to implement strict measures, such as the closure of the universities in Madrid. Every day the news informed us of new measures that were carried out in Spain or in our home countries. A week after I went home, most of my colleagues followed. One after the other. Everyone with their own stories and obstacles to overcome.

"I also took part in the panic buying today and bought pansies for my garden." My grandma's statement on the phone during our family brunch.

Photo by Gvantsa Chunibidze

The news and various social media platforms not only discuss the implementation of new measures, but also how society deals with them. Videos and images of shelves empty of toilet paper, of people touching their faces, and of people using plastic bags for their protection, have spread through the various channels.

My grandma and grandpa will spend the quarantine in a town in Upper Austria, reduce their social contacts and enjoy their garden. My father and stepmother do the same in Vienna. All four belong to the risk group due to their age or medical history. But what about the rest of my family? We are spread across different districts in Vienna, different federal states in Austria and different countries in Europe. While my family is sitting at the table together during our brunch, I look from family member to family member and I see other problems that need to be resolved.

While my family is sitting at the table together during our brunch, I look from family member to family member and I see other problems that need to be resolved.

My mother and stepfather have used last week to transform their employees' office lives as well as their own, into many home offices. From home, everyone works together to deal with the many complications that the virus poses for the continued business success of the startups they oversee. My parents successfully completed their funding phase before the outbreak of the corona virus, but what about the startups that are at the beginning or in the middle of their funding phase?

My little sister just came back from her school skiing course. Schools in Austria will be closed this week, probably until after the Easter break. My sister's class is lagging behind, while other classes and their teachers at my sister’s school had time last week to get used to the new online learning system. Now, overwhelmed teachers come up against nervous parents. My parents can stay with my sister at home and give her the structure to do her work from home. My parents and sister have a strong affinity for technology. This will help them to solve certain problems with the new online learning system themselves. But what about families in my sister’s class where this is not the case?

Photo by Gvantsa Chunibidze

My brothers are both students. Like other males in Austria, they also had to do six months of military or nine months of civilian service before starting university. One of my brothers did military service and one did paramedic service. The service of this year's generation is extended due to the Corona virus. In addition, previous generations of Austrian men are asked to volunteer for the Corona crisis. They are especially looking for people who have served in the medical sector. My brothers are now caught between the personal responsibilities of their studies and their work, as well as their greater responsibility which is assigned to them by the state. A week ago, the final exam or the deadline for the master's thesis was their biggest concern.

"My family, sitting together at the table, shows the gravity of the situation. The abstraction becomes real."

My brother’s girlfriend works as occupational therapist in Vienna. The Austrian government has declared a state of emergency. Starting this Monday, today, Austria’s population is asked to stay home and only leave the house if necessary. Only professional work that cannot be postponed or urgently-needed errands are reasons to leave the house. A fund with a value of four billion euros was created to cover the costs of a short-term work system that is being introduced today. The short-term work system can only be introduced in certain work areas. Although my brother's girlfriend works in the medical sector, her work could be postponed, yet the only way for her to stay home today is to go on unpaid leave.

As I write these lines, my boyfriend is getting upset with his work computer, which doesn't work at home as it does at work. And what about my stepdad’s father, who wants to celebrate his 80th birthday during the Easter holidays and has not yet identified himself as part of a risk group? My family, sitting together at the table, shows the gravity of the situation. The abstraction becomes real.

This story was shared by Anina Baumgartner, an Austrian student of Urban Studies, until lately living in Madrid.

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