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Where were you when…?

In years to come, we will be reminiscing about where we were, and what we were doing when the Covid-19 crisis really kicked off. Many are still sharing their 9/11 stories since the news broke 18 years ago.

Back then, I was a cruise ship doctor for Princess Cruises and our ship had left New York the evening before. I can only imagine what it must have been like for the medical staff on the Diamond Princess, suddenly faced with an outbreak of a then little-known virus.

Ironically, 18 years later I flew back to the US on the day President Trump announced the UK would no longer be exempt from his European travel ban. As I read the breaking news on the plane, I wondered whether I should turn around and go straight back to London. But my children had been looking forward to their cousin’s wedding in Puerto Rico, so we continued on to Orlando.

As it happened, Puerto Rico went into lockdown and the wedding was cancelled. We felt bewildered and scared as the domino effects of Covid-19 rippled across the US. Theme parks and restaurants closed their doors, and the same panic buying I’d read about in the UK was spreading faster than the virus. (I cannot emphasise the deep joy I felt following the purchase of toilet paper, after being without it for three days).

Without the ‘we’re all in this together approach’, society will struggle to survive

But the worst part was not knowing when or how we would reach home. We read that Norwegian Air, whom we flew out with, was stopping all flights and facing bankruptcy, but they were not responding to emails or calls. We bought new flights with British Airways, only for them to be cancelled within hours. Eventually, we found a flight with several stopovers, and here I am writing this on the final leg of our journey home.

It’s fair to say our family has faced huge anxiety and disappointment over the past week, but the unfolding NHS crisis offers me a sense of perspective. As we enter a landscape akin to a warzone, I find myself reflecting on two types of occupation – those that will be much busier as this crisis evolves, and those that will cease. There are those who provide critical services: healthcare workers, 999 staff, food manufacturers/suppliers, cleaners and refuse collectors. Then there are those that currently feel inconsequential: financial advisers, stockbrokers and most retailers.

We’ve plummeted down Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and all my usual anxieties now feel like first-world problems. My main purpose now is to ensure I can safely care for the sick and vulnerable, while protecting my family.

There is a new significance to the phrase ‘we’re all in this together’ because without this approach, society will struggle to survive. I have been genuinely moved by messages from friends, colleagues and strangers, offering to home-school my kids, give me money to fly home or supply me with free coffee.

But most of all, I have been struck by the resilience and humour of children. When, as I made breakfast while on hold to the airlines, my 11-year-old asked me what colour she should paint her nails, I told her bright yellow, because this would make everyone’s day more sunny, in very troubled times.

Dr Shaba Nabi is a GP trainer in Bristol. Read more of Dr Nabi’s blogs online at