"The current COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives in so many ways: how we live, how we learn, how we work, how we travel, and how we socialize.
It has also impacted my life as a master's student studying Infectious Diseases and One Health in Spain. In a way, I feel that I chose my subject and timing very well. I vividly remember discussing the Wuhan outbreak and the unknown origin of the disease in January. We all assumed that it would diminish soon. Later, WHO declared a public health emergency - eventually evolving into a pandemic.
New cases arose in Europe, masks and hygiene products were scarce on the market, and toilet paper became the most demanding commodity. The grocery shelves were empty and the atmosphere was filled with fear and anxiety, imprinting an apocalyptic scene into my memory. Everything became unsettling and unclear, while the number of death tolls increased daily. And, thousands of people were put under lockdown in Spain, including myself.
Fortunately, I experienced the 10-week lockdown in Spain in the most positive way. I was fortunate to have my best friend from the Netherlands, who happened to be a colleague from my program, live with me in Barcelona, Spain. We made sure to include daily work-outs into our routine to stay sane during these hard times. Our way of learning changed, and our classes were completeley online. Day by day, the news of the overwhelming health system and the surge in infections concerned us about our countries and the future. At that moment, Myanmar did not have any official case yet. We would share the different approaches of the Netherlands and Myanmar on handling and preparing for the outbreak.
But we found sparks of light in the darkness.
We were given an opportunity to do research on climate change and infectious diseases. The project was to evaluate knowledge, attitude, and perception around the role of climate change in the spread of infectious diseases. The timing was quite perfect for doing our research. We were able to recruit participants from Myanmar, the Netherlands, North America, Spain and the UK. While our research occupied our time, we constantly checked on measures of each country to learn which methods work best to confine the virus. After all, our small project became an opportunity to reunite with our friends and family from different parts of the world. The world became physically distant due to the restrictions and border control. Yet, everyone comes together to bring the world closer again and fight against COVID-19.
There came a point when returning home became an arduous journey and an impossible mission. In the meantime, I fulfilled my duty to help slow down the virus: staying home with stringent social distancing. One day in May, I got a phone call from the Myanmar embassy in Paris informing me that I might be able to fly home with a special flight from France. It made my heart flutter! I put all the effort in my power to fly home.
On May 22nd, I made it home with fellow Burmese who were stuck in Italy, and some European citizens going to Myanmar to help with EU projects. As discussed previously, this also happened because everyone from different sectors - from government to private organizations in Myanmar and Europe - worked together very well. Now, I am on my last day of 21 days hotel quarantine in Yangon, and I was tested negative twice for COVID-19. I will continue my duty to conform to the quarantine requirements.
Looking back or looking forward, this pandemic has left us with some lessons – both good and bad. This is a lesson and a wake-up call for everyone. From the public health perspective, we were not prepared for this outbreak. It is good in a way to see that the global community stands in solidarity and works together to fight against COVID-19 and ease the consequences of the pandemic.
As an Erasmus student, I had the opportunity to learn how EU countries function during this outbreak. I also witnessed the great collaborations between EU and Myanmar to improve Myanmar's health system, including projects focusing on emerging infectious diseases preparedness.
For that, I am grateful for my lockdown experience in Spain."
Soe Yu Naing is an Erasmus Mundus scholar pursuing a master's degree in Infectious Diseases and One Health in Europe. His research focuses on zoonotic diseases and antimicrobial resistance in low and middle-income countries.