The Bosphorus banks, once filled with people enjoying the views, are now deserted (Credit: Gonca Tokyol)

For A, a 28 year-old living in Istanbul, the coronavirus outbreak has brought mixed blessings.

Subjected like millions of other people around the word to restrictions on her movement, she has found the time to focus on other aspects of her life.

“With the coronavirus outbreak, I faced up to my own mortality. Being reminded that we all die affected me negatively, of course, but it also gave me the power to say: ‘I can do anything I want.’”

Over Skype, A – who works in the legal department of a large company – said that she had dreamed of switching to home-working long before the coronavirus pandemic. She sees the closure of her office building as a rare opportunity.

“I love being at home. I can do laundry during my lunch break, or I can squeeze oranges while talking with a client on the phone,” she said.

The bustling city of Istanbul is half-empty these days due to the coronavirus outbreak.  (Credit: Gonca Tokyol)

The shutdowns introduced by many countries in response to the spread of coronavirus – also known as COVID-19 – represent what is perhaps the most remarkable interruption of everyday life in modern history. The daily routines of millions have been suspended as infections and deaths soar; many people have lost their jobs and income.

Samuel Paul Louis Veissière

But for those people who are relatively economically secure, Samuel Paul Louis Veissière, co-director of the culture, mind and brain programme at McGill University in Canada, said in an e-mail response to Inside Turkey that the enforced pause may be “a much-needed respite from the rat-race of everyday life”.

Nida Dinçtürk, an Inside Turkey contributor based in London, UK, said that the outbreak had distracted her from ingrained patterns of negative introspection.

“Until yesterday,” she wrote in a private message on Twitter, “I was always wondering if I had screwed up my life or not. But now I don’t have time to worry about myself.”

The coronavirus pandemic, according to Veissière, “has drastically restructured our attention toward many crucial features of our lives. We are now more mindful of our health and thankful for our bodies”.

Çağatay Öztürk (Credit: Öztürk’s personal archive)

Çağatay Öztürk, a psychotherapist from Istanbul, believes that people’s coping mechanisms will have been strengthened by experiences of terrorism, war and natural disasters – all of which have hit Turkey in recent years. 

“People are more experienced in facing misfortune, and they are also more trained in finding solutions, creating opportunities,” he said.

Since March 21, people aged over 65 or who have a chronic illness have been told not to leave their homes. Volunteer groups – aided by some state officials – are helping the elderly complete their shopping. 

Meral Taşçı, 72, is one of the millions staying at home by order of the interior ministry, and agrees to an interview through the open window of her ground floor flat.

“Our generation saw a couple of coups and even more curfews,” she said. “Of course, it is scary, but there is nothing I can do except wait at home.” 

Taşçı added, smiling, “A young man from the municipality called me. My neighbours knocked on my door and checked if I needed anything. I am more popular than ever.”

Other gestures of solidarity are appearing around the country, with some landlords allowing tenants to forego a month’s rent, bakeries handing out free bread to the needy and banks postponing loan payments. 

Öztürk, the psychotherapist, said that the pandemic had been a “wake-up call” to many. 

“People started to question the speed of life, and they started to evaluate their definition of living,” he continued. “They started to think about their connections to others and realised that they weren’t spending enough time with loved ones – or even their cats and dogs.”

A said that her personal relationships had improved since the start of the pandemic. 

“Being unable to hug people isn’t easy for me, but I love my friends more than ever. It’s changed the way I communicate with my partner, too,” she said. “Of course, we talk about the current situation. But deeper subjects like our expectations from life, or our childhoods, take up more of our conversations.”

Damla Ugantaş, a 26 year-old project manager for an international NGO operating in Turkey, said that 14 days of self-isolation had also affected her relationship with her boyfriend. In a WhatsApp message, she said that her boyfriend, who had been reluctant to handle his share of housework before, was now folding laundry. 

“Maybe I will feel different in a couple of weeks but for now, my dreams have come true,” she continued. “It’s like I’m in paradise. He does the washing up and makes me coffee with Baileys. He tidied the study, and even tried to fix the vacuum cleaner.”

Veissière believes these changes indicate a “radical restructuring of how we perceive the world and one another”. 

The crisis, he said, is focusing minds on how to keep societies functioning and protect the vulnerable. 

“All in all, we are witnessing the mass coordination of solidarity on an unprecedented global scale.” This, he argued, was reason for optimism. “I expect that as we continue to learn and recover from this crisis,” Veissière continued, “the world of tomorrow will be slower, more grounded, more socially-oriented with a stronger focus on key components of human life like family, community, cooperation, and a common search for meaning.”