“Lucky” During a Lockdown?

Pau Ribó Molina


The first news of a SARS virus outbreak in China seemed very far away from the Netherlands. Nevertheless, frequent updates were provided in departmental meetings as the number of cases rose exponentially. Local spread soon became global, moving rapidly enough to realise that we were facing a pandemic. On Friday the 13th of March 2020, all the research work that was not SARS-CoV-2 related ceased at the Viroscience Department in Rotterdam.

Frustration and concern were the first thoughts among the members of our research group. No one likes their work to be called “non-essential”, especially in a virology department during a viral pandemic. Our research on respiratory viruses such as Influenza or Human Metapneumovirus had to be put aside, until further notice. However, this decision was quickly accepted to limit the social exposure of our co-workers working on the emerging virus. Fortunately, researchers with long-term on-going experiments were allowed to complete their work, while following the governmental safety guidelines. Everyone with potentially helpful skills could also volunteer for tasks in the Diagnostics department.

Laboratory work usually requires interaction between different laboratories but not much office work. After more than a month working from my bedroom table, the walls sometimes seem to get closer and closer. Fortunately, in the Netherlands, people are still allowed to go for a run around the extensive green parks and canals, which personally has been great for my mental fitness.

Nonetheless, when abroad, I cannot help but compare my current situation to the one back home. When I decided to pursue a PhD in the Netherlands, proximity was a factor, as it would allow me to visit my family occasionally. Circumstances have hindered those visits, as family and friends in Barcelona have been locked down for almost two months, only able to go out for the groceries. Individual walks outdoors until recently, were not even allowed, hence my constant feeling is that I have no right to complain.

With the laboratory work for my PhD project on stand-by, there is more time to think, read and evaluate strategies. What you would usually combine with experimental work, you can now dedicate most of your time to. Again, even though the situation is not ideal, I feel lucky to be healthy and I am definitely looking forward to continuing my research as soon as we are allowed to go back.

Pau Ribó Molina is a Catalan PhD based in The Netherlands