Only a few weeks ago, on 29 February 2020, I photographed hundreds of protesters gathering in the centre of Glasgow to protest against the climate change. Little did we know that a deadly COVID-19 pandemic was spreading around the world and will soon reach Scotland. And so the lockdown countdown began, even if we were not aware of it initially.
The national quarantine in Italy was imposed on 9 March 2020, although first regional lockdowns started around 21 February there. Spain went into lockdown 14 March, France – on 17 March. Horrified, we heard the news of daily death toll reports from Italy and that the rink at the Ice Palace in Madrid was to turn into an improvised cold storage facility for the dead.
On 16 March 2020 UK government issued advice to avoid all non-essential travel and contact with others, and also to work from home if possible. And we were to avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and other such social venues.
John brought his computer, monitors and keyboard from work already on Friday, as his employers foresaw the changes. We ordered some disposable masks and gloves online, just in case, as there were none sold in pharmacies.
I felt that we lived in strange times and some photographic record of Glasgow urban life had to be made, so on 19 March I briefly ventured to St Enoch armed with a telephoto lens to stay away from the crowds.
Despite all warnings Buchanan Street was heaving with people, some, mostly Asians, wore masks. The subway was open as usual but there were somewhat fewer travellers. Groups of friends had coffee at the tables outside Cafe Nero – for them it was business as usual. Just one day later, on 20 March all cafes, restaurants and cinemas would be shut.
Everything looked so normal. Even a young guy was vaping on the bench at St Enoch Square staring at the screen of his smartphone. No, I was wrong – people waiting at the bus stop definitely tried to maintain the social distancing rules.
On 20 March the UK government told schools to close, along with pubs, cafes and cinemas. We ran out of milk and I volunteered get it at the local Tesco store early in the morning as John had to work. I took my camera with me, which I didn’t regret as I managed to capture a workman pressure-washing the side walkway of St Enoch Shopping Centre.
Meanwhile, John spent the whole week indoors and felt the need to stretch his legs. It was a gorgeous sunny weather on Sunday 22 March and we decided to take a brief stroll on Clyde Walk. Surprisingly, there were hardly anyone outside, perhaps because of the absence of clear guidelines about being in public spaces during the pandemic, making people a bit wary.
Local pigeons, used to regular treats, were not afraid of humans and definitely did not want to respect any social distancing in hope we had some food with us.
We didn’t see a single car at Broomielaw or the IFSD area. I mean, they are quiet on weekends but never this quiet. There was only one girl far across the road, wheeling her bag.
Next day on 23 March 2020 a “Stay at Home” order was announced, now referred to as UK lockdown, to stop spreading the disease further. We were allowed to leave home only for essential grocery shopping, to buy medicines or take one a day exercise walk in the vicinity. By then there were 335 deaths from COVID-19 in UK, 14 of them in Scotland.
A kind note of support from our neighbours appeared in the hallway outside the lift on the day of the lockdown announcement, and a post it note reply soon after.