When the World Changed I. Impact of the coronavirus epidemic on everyday life in Slovakia

Currently, measures that were implemented in the middle of March in Slovakia as a response to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic are being gradually lifted. The current situation could become a moment for reflection, a time to look back and see how the epidemic has impacted the everyday and how we experienced the change while it was happening.
Shortly after the implementation of the first extraordinary measures[1], a team from the Institute of Ethnology and Social Anthropology SAS[2] launched an online questionnaire survey as an anthropological research pilot about everyday life during the coronavirus pandemic in Slovakia.[3] The questionnaire was available from 18 March to 26 March 2020, i.e. at a time when people’s experience with voluntary or mandatory social (or physical) isolation was still fresh (1-2 weeks). The selected data collection period captured people’s first reactions to the unprecedented and radical changes of their life circumstances. Due to the urgency of the whole situation, the questionnaire received a considerable response and was massively shared on the internet.[4] Within a week 2,564 questionnaires were collected of which 2,357 testimonies were included in the final data processing.[5]

The data was collected during the first days after the implementation of extraordinary measures which significantly impacted the selected methodology as well as the fulfilment of the research scope itself. The aim was to map the attitudes and immediate reflections of people through their responses to (mostly) open ended questions without given restricted choices.[6] We were interested in what the respondents themselves would emphasize in individual responses, how they would describe their current everydayness, mostly in the context of intergenerational relationships, distribution of work, communication and cooperation among household members. We also focused on their emotions, expectations and their ideas about the further development of events.
As the abundant and diverse respondents’ answers indicate, because of the pressing nature of the situation, many used the questionnaire as a space to “vent” and to formulate their own attitudes. 

Research sample

The research results reflect a situation in a particular time and space that was limited by the organic way it spread on the internet. Therefore, the survey cannot be mechanically generalized and applied to the Slovak population, because it depicts opinions and moods of people who could access it. However, the attitudes and actions presented indicate society-wide trends.
The survey sample contained more women (80%) than men (20%) and more university educated people (79%) than people with primary or secondary education (21%). Age-wise, it contained mostly young-middle aged and middle-aged people.
Respondents’ economic activities correspond with the age distribution. People from Bratislava Region were significantly represented (61%) while other regions were represented relatively equally (4-7%). The survey sample contained a larger representation of respondents with children (57%), which were mostly families with two children, than respondents without children (32%). Which corresponds with the composition of households. The number of days that the respondents spent in isolation is of interest as it closely relates to the period when the data was collected and at the same time it also clarifies the statements collected in the questionnaire (e.g. in relation to the described emotions). In most cases, people had isolated for 6 to 10 days (44%), 1 to 5 days (19%) and 11 and more days (12%). 25% of people did not isolate themselves (mostly due to work and the necessity to remain present at the place of work) and some did not specify.

How our days changed

The pandemic and the related decision to enter social isolation to protect oneself against infection was a completely new life experience for most Slovak residents. In our questionnaire we asked people about how their daily schedule differed from normal life before the outbreak of the disease.

We wanted to see how the COVID-19 epidemic changed or impacted the everyday routines that we were used to: relationships, work, free time, shopping and also the pace of life.

The responses reflected the fact that most of the respondents spent their time in isolation at home. The most often mentioned change was working from home (31%) mostly impacting university educated peoplefrom Bratislava Region, while people with elementary and secondary education from Trnava, Trenčín and Nitra Regions predominantly mentioned staying home on family care leave, unpaid leave or due to loss of work (28%). Entrepreneurs mentioned loss of work or income much more often, but on the other hand, they also appreciated being able to spend more time with their families.
People also experienced significant restrictions to their social contact (28%). They limited visiting their extended families, grandparents, meeting friends or their social life in general and attending cultural events or gatherings. They also spontaneously stated that they limited the amount of time spent outside (20%) and to a greater extent cared for children (17%).
In comparison to women, men more often stated that their daily routine has not changed or did not comment on this question. Many women mentioned that in addition to working from home they also had to prepare activities for children, school them, do housework and cook more often – “from computer to the stove, textbooks and the kids’ room...” This confirms the assumption that women bore the responsibility of everyday homeschooling and increased household demands.[7]
It also seems that the size of the household, i.e., whether people live by themselves, with a partner or with one or more children, impacted the way everyday isolation was perceived. Younger people (18-29) and also older people (50-59) living without children in addition to restrictions (temporary loss of hobbies and social contacts) also described the possibility of dedicating more time to resting and sleeping and having a freer daily routine. Thirteen percent of people mentioned this possibility, while they stated that they could finally organize their work and free time based on their needs. For many people this period meant time to slow down, a less “busy” life and several started doing activities "that there is never time for”. The situation in households of parents with two or more children was completely different. These significantly more often mentioned caring for children[8] while also having more housework. This relates directly to the closing of kindergartens and elementary schools, which subsequently placed the burden on parents.
Many also spontaneously described changes to their consumer behaviour (13%), shopping was done solely by a single member of the family, they shopped on a larger scale with a prepared list or they preferred online shopping. As people spent more time at home, they did housework more frequently (13%). Several people also talked about losing their hobbies (9%) as they could not take regular walks, go to the gym, swimming pool, language or dance courses etc. Only 9% of respondents stated that their daily schedule remained almost unchanged or stayed the same. This is true for women and men on maternity or parental leave (whose responsibilities  basically remained the same), students and the retired, even though at the same time, they also mentioned lack of social contacts and meetings with family or friends.
It is interesting to observe how people's daily schedules changed in relation to how long they had been in voluntary or forced isolation. Respondents who had been at home for a shorter time talked more about work from home and being able to enjoy more rest and sleep. On the contrary, people who had spent more than 11 days in isolation emphasized having minimised social contact and limited time spent outside. In their spontaneous responses, they reflected an increase in the amount of childcare and housework. We assume that these descriptions of the situation are impacted by how burdened they felt as more days went by and the effort to balance work, housekeeping and caring for the family.

Relationships, emotions and experience

How did people describe the period when their world changed so suddenly? Findings about their daily routines show that the majority was suddenly locked at home with their closest relatives, with whom they had previously used to spend time mostly in the evenings, weekends and during holidays. Many changed their place of work – their household became their home, place of work, school and playground...[9] Communication with people outside the household was limited mostly to phone calls or social networks. At the same time, they were overloaded with information about the virus, how it spreads, number of infected people or the contradictory attitudes of individual states to the emerging pandemic. These circumstances impacted their momentary mental state and the mood in the family.

Most of the respondents spontaneously described the atmosphere at home as positive and constructive (59%). In this context, many used terms such as “pleasant”, “happy” and “close”. When categorized by the number of days spent in isolation, these statements came from people who had recently started isolating (1-5 days). It can be assumed that some of them had not yet felt the pressure caused by these circumstances and apprehension about further development of the situation (e.g. in the context of the possible impacts on the economy or their own livelihood) or they had not admitted feeling that way yet. In regards to their economic standing, it was interesting that mainly members of one of the most at risk groups of the population – entrepreneurs and the self-employed – characterized the atmosphere in such a way. This information can be looked at in relation to the question about the respondents’ current feelings. Many self-employed or entrepreneurs stated that they appreciate being able to spend time with their families and strengthen their relationships or the possibility to rest and slow down without feeling guilty (not only because of economical need but also due to the traditional work ethos).
Approximately 10% of the respondents talked about a neutral or unchanged atmosphere at home. Such evaluations were more often present in the spontaneous responses of respondents who had been isolated for six and more days and predominantly men. As mentioned above, changes in daily routines (more childcare or housework duties) impacted women more than men and mostly women – mothers. Also, the atmosphere at home was often described as neutral or unchanged by people who did not spend the surveyed time in isolation for various, mostly work-related, reasons. This may be due to the fact that these respondents were not at home during the day, i.e. they did not participate in the day-long interactions with their family members. People without kids also talked about a neutral or unchanged atmosphere. Respondents who live alone more often described a muted atmosphere or a feeling of loneliness.
On the contrary, 17% of the respondents talked about a more negative atmosphere and mentioned for example “increasing tensions” or noticed a “slightly oppressive feeling”. A further 13% characterized the atmosphere as definitely negative or tense. These described a prevailing feeling of “cabin fever”, oppression, stifling atmosphere and ensuing conflicts. Based on the descriptions, family atmosphere was evaluated negatively mostly by respondents in the 18 to 29 age group. It can be assumed that this age group felt the sudden loss of immediate social contacts more intensely or that their life circumstances changed significantly (e.g. inevitable returns to parental households from dormitories or their separate households).
Spontaneous descriptions of the mood in households often included the feeling of fear – of the unknown, of the future or a specific fear for the wellbeing of loved ones (14%) or apprehension in regards to the developments of the atmosphere between household members and family (10%). To a lesser extent the responses included descriptions like changeable or individually perceived moods (mainly related to the extent to which individual household members were burdened or the mental state of adults or children).
Respondents’ current feelings reveal and relate to different everyday life circumstances in this particular period, in relation to the situation in their family environment, changes in their work life and also in relation to their attitudes towards the regulations, e.g. regarding the regulation mandating the use of face masks. Media commentators[10] and researchers[11] to a great extent agreed that the reason for such prompt compliance with protective measures was primarily the fact that people were afraid of how the underfunded and deficient healthcare system would manage the epidemic.

Respondents’ statements offer similar interpretations, even though the range of spontaneously mentioned emotions that are related to the outbreak of the epidemic is significantly more diverse.

Primarily, the responses predominantly mentioned fear described as apprehension, anxiety or even panic (51%) and following are descriptions of helplessness, uncertainty and distrust (16%). Such spontaneous descriptions of feelings were offered more often by women than men and by people living with families. Particular statements widely included descriptions of fears for loved ones (mostly elderly family members and children) but also fears of getting infected (mostly if respondents belonged to vulnerable groups, e.g. elderly, chronically ill or pregnant women), economic impacts or worries about further developments in the country[12] and the subsequent dependence on the Slovak healthcare system. As one of the respondents stated: “I am not scared of the disease so much, but of the possibility that one of us would have to rely on the Slovak healthcare system.” While some even expressed their distrust towards the government (mostly the outgoing government), the media and the way they inform about the disease and described feeling restricted or oppressed.
A part of the respondents declared having a pragmatic attitude or keeping their distance (13%). Such responses were given more by men than women and at the same time men were more likely to not respond to questions relating to emotions.
In this context, the same number of respondents also mentioned feelings of humility, respect or emphasized the necessity of a society-wide change in priorities and values (13%). They primarily mentioned respect towards nature and its powers (from rational argumentation to displays of fatalism), respect towards God and also frontline workers. These respondents were predominantly represented by people aged 60 and over (23% compared to 11–13% in other age groups) who also expressed feeling hopeful, optimistic, surprised, shocked and also coming to terms with the situations and finding a balance.
To a similar extent respondents mentioned confusion, i.e. changeable and contradictory feelings (13%). Such descriptions of feelings were chiefly offered by people aged 18 to 29, on the one hand, they emphasized feeling hopeful and optimistic while also admitting tension and stress. However, respondents from this age group were also most often not able to express their feelings.[13] On the other hand, respondents aged 30 to 39 more often spoke about fear and panic inducing anxiety and at the same time also  to a greater extent declared having a pragmatic attitude.
Another relatively large group of described experiences comprised positive feelings (8%) that were based on the above mentioned joy from “slowing down”, a decrease in everyday stress and joy from spending time together with their families: “I am finally allowed to turn off.” Several expressed feeling satisfied with the displays of solidarity between people and the attitude of people in Slovakia[14]. People expressed positive feelings in relation to the environment that, as described by the respondents, got a chance "take a break”.[15]
Other described feelings included sadness and depression (8%), such as missing their relatives, missing life as it used to be before the pandemic but also feeling sad because of the developments in Italy. Furthermore, there were displays of anger and dissatisfaction (7%), whether in relation to people who do not comply with protective measures but also anger with the state, the state of the healthcare system, political representation or the unpreparedness of state bodies (in addition to our institutions, respondents also mentioned the Italian or Spanish ones). Some expressed anger with the disease as such: “I hate it, it horrifies me.” 
Other described feelings included hope and faith (7%), neutral feelings (unchanged, indifferent – 6%) and the like. Five percent of respondents vividly described feeling shocked. They depicted it as absurd, surreal, nightmarish or akin to a catastrophic film.
The responses about current feelings did not show significant differences related to the number of days spent in isolation. Respondents who had been at home for a shorter time more often talked about neutral feelings, which may mean that they had not formulated their opinions on the situation and their own feelings yet. On the contrary, people who had been home for 11 and more days more often described sadness, depression and scepticism.
Currently, as the numbers of active cases are gradually declining and there are only a few new positive cases of COVID-19, shops and other venues are being opened and schools are planned to reopen, the first days following the implementation of extraordinary measures may truly seem as a distant time that we have luckily overcome. A further reflection of the period will allow us to reveal which aspects of the situation surprised us the most and found us unprepared. Even more so, as the fears of future epidemic waves in the (near) future are on the rise.
In the upcoming report that will be published next week, we will provide a more detailed analysis of the relationships and division of work between family members, intergenerational communication, help within families as well as caring for children.
Mgr. Soňa G. Lutherová, PhD.
Mgr. Miroslava Hlinčíková, PhD.
Mgr. Ľubica Voľanská, PhD.
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[1] As of 10 March 2020, there was a ban on organizing public events effective across Slovakia and Bratislava Region schools were closed. On 12 March 2020, the government declared an extraordinary situation, while on 16 March 2020, a state of emergency was declared and all schools and free-time centres in the Slovak Republic were closed, mandatory quarantine after arriving from abroad was implemented and international airports were closed. 

[2] The questionnaire was compiled by Mgr. Soňa G. Lutherová, PhD. Mgr. Miroslava Hlinčíková, PhD., Mgr. Ľubica Voľanská, PhD. and the collected data was statistically processed by Sylvia Šumšalová.
[3] The research was realized as a part of the APVV-15-0184 project Intergenerational Social Networks in an Ageing city, Continuity and Innovation. As of the beginning of April, the research has continued using qualitative reflexive methodologies (deep conversation, biographical notes, photographs and videos) on a selected sample of respondents.
[4] The call for completing the survey was published on the Institute of Ethnology and Social Anthropology SAS and Slovak Academy of Sciences websites and also on their respective Facebook accounts. Subsequently the questionnaire was organically shared with other respondents.
[5] Incomplete conversations were excluded from the original sample as well as respondents who stated that they were abroad or are younger than 18. This report explores only the responses of people who spent the beginning of the epidemic in Slovakia.
[6] Because the questions were open ended, respondents sometimes understood the questions differently. Some answered concisely and consistently and others used the space to support their responses with a plethora of arguments and used detailed descriptions, while their responses were sometimes rather ambivalent.
[7] Bitušíková, A. 2020. Dôsledky koronakrízy na ženy a rodovú rovnosť (Impacts of the Coronacrisis on Women and Gender Equality). Available HERE.

[8] We will consider the topic of childcare in more detail in another report next week.

[9] Hlinčíková, M. 2020. Zostať doma je privilégium (Staying Home Is a Privilege). Available HERE.

[10] E.g. Serhan, Y. 2020: Lessons From Slovakia – Where Leaders Wear Masks. In: The Atlantic, 13 May 2020. Available HERE
Walker, S. – Smith. H. 2020: Why Has Eastern Europe Suffered Less from Coronavirus Than the West? In: The Guardian, 5 May 2020. Available HERE
Pancevski, B. – Hinshaw, D. 2020: Poorer Nations in Europe’s East Could Teach the West a Lesson on Coronavirus. In: The Wall Street Journal, 12 April 2020. Available HERE.

[11] This topic was also pursued in researches by the Institute of Experimental Psychology SAS (Ballová Mikušková, E. – Šrol, J. – Čavojová, V. 2020: Preventívne správanie v čase corony (Preventive Behaviour in the Times of Corona).
Available HERE and MNFORCE, Seesame, Institute for Sociology SAS and Institute for Research in Social Communication SAS (Lášticová, B. – Poslon X.-D. 2020: V čase krízy potrebujeme adekvátne komunikovať sociálne normy (We Need to Communicate Social Norms Adequately During Crisis). Available HERE

[12] In this context many people mentioned the outbreak and spread of the disease in northern Italy where there were thousands of new cases recorded daily and the number of deaths was rising quickly at that time.
[13] Which may be connected to an inability but also an unwillingness to characterize their feelings.
[14] At that time, several initiatives aimed to help the healthcare workers and other frontline workers were being started as well as self-help groups who were sewing face masks and the like.
[15] In the period when the data was collected, pictures of swans or dolphins in Venice canals became viral. Despite the fact that the decrease in citizens mobility really had a (temporary) positive impact on the environment, these reports were later revealed as fake (Daly, N. 2020: Fake Animal News Abounds on Social Media as Coronavirus Upends Life. In: National Geographic, 20 March 2020. Available HERE.

Photo 1: Allie – unsplash.com
Photo 2: S. Karimi – unsplash.com
Photo 3: T. Bennet – unsplash.com