BY the time the Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg announced “the most far-reaching measures we have had in peacetime” at 1pm on Thursday, much of Europe was beginning to go into lockdown in an attempt to contain and delay the spread of the coronavirus.

The continent is now at the epicentre of the global pandemic, according to the World Health Organisation. As the number of cases rises rapidly its governments are for the most part scrambling to respond, though the UK has been accused of being slow to react.

In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon advised against gatherings of more than 500 and many universities will now close. The UK Government, which has told people with mild symptoms to self-isolate, has been criticised for its lack of decisive action.

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Meanwhile in Norway the measures included the closure of all schools and universities and plans that require everyone arriving from Norway to go into quarantine, regardless of symptoms.

As official cases reached almost 900, cultural and public institutions closed, healthcare workers were banned from travel, people were asked not to visit care homes, prisons or psychiatric hospitals.

On Friday, Camilla Sevendsen, a geologist for an oil company who lives in the southern city of Stavanger with her journalist husband and two sons, aged six and 10, was trying to navigate life in a very different world. She went to work in the morning and was meant to be home by noon so her husband could get to work and meet his deadlines.

But midday came and went and, unable to get away from the office – and back to her children who were in PJs and had yet to eat lunch – she began to realise quite how challenging this was going to be.

The National: Camilla SevendsenCamilla Sevendsen

Her weekend trip to her company’s cabin in the country has been cancelled. On Monday she’ll be working remotely and for now the children are delighted to be off school. “But it’s going to be tough,” she says. “We will really need to make a plan.”

Similar measures were announced in Denmark on Wednesday – the country shut its borders at noon yesterday in an attempt to curb the spread of Covid-19, with stranded passengers told to stay in the airport.

Yesterday Marie Olesen, a filmmaker who lives in Copenhagen, was expecting to be welcoming guests flying in from across Europe for her 50th birthday party. Instead she’s spent the last few days on the phone cancelling invitations and making sure travel plans go on hold. Her partner meanwhile is self-isolating after developing flu symptoms.

“A sixth sense had made me switch on the telly, which I rarely do, and there it was – the red and yellows flashing all over, with the headline ‘Denmark is shutting down’,” she says.

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“The press conference was so sober though. It made perfect sense to take precautions, with references to WHO and others and with Italy going into meltdown. All warnings and advice seemed based on grim experiences from there, and how Wuhan somehow managed to flatten the curve a bit.”

By Friday evening Copenhagen had not shut down quite yet. “Food shops are open and I went for a walk yesterday and had a beer in an empty bar,” she says. “But there’s an eerie sense setting in. The seriousness is round the corner.”

But she is also wondering if there are some positives to be taken from it. “Everyone I’ve spoken to seems to agree that something better, more realistic, even achievable will come out of all this,” she says.

It forces them to slow down and look at what they are actually doing, she suggests, ‘‘and forces the question of how can we make do with less?’’

In the Czech Republic, Stepanka Senjukova who lives in Pilsen and has daughters aged, eight and 10 years old, is also feeling upbeat. Schools were shut last week and on Friday a state of emergency was declared with foreigners from high risk countries banned. But she is reassured that her government is doing the right thing.

“Of course, the restrictions have an effect on our everyday lives,” she says. “The children are learning at home with our help and we are trying to think of some fun for them that would not involve large numbers of other people.

‘‘We as a family have adapted to the new situation well. In this situation I am really glad that our government intervened this way.”

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But Vera Rahova, who also lives in the Czech Republic in a tiny village in southwestern Bohemia, is trying to look after her two sons, aged six and eight, while working from home, and finds it more of a struggle.

“One of the most surprising restrictions I found was the closure of holy mass service,” she says. “As a Catholic Christian I would like to spend Lent Sundays in church.

The National: Munich is the largest city in BavariaMunich is the largest city in Bavaria

“We live in a small village close to Germany and twice a month I usually go to Bavaria to shop or have a walk or cross country ski, which I cannot do now the borders are closed again.

“I do not like it at all … It reminds me of bad old times. I will obey the rules because I want to believe that they can save lives by doing this. But I really hope this only takes few weeks and everything ends soon.”

Susie Keddie, a freelance translator originally from East Lothian but who now lives near Barcelona with her Spanish husband and two sons, says she was almost relieved when restrictions on schools were announced. Further closures and the declaration of a state of emergency came as more of a surprise.

“I was starting to get a bit nervous about them going to school,” she says. “The kids are delighted of course and the school has done a good job of explaining the situation in a calm way, so they’re not worried.”

Because they go to a private school, her kids will attend online lessons with teachers in the morning. “Then my plan is to take them out for a long walk in the hills in the afternoon so we all get some exercise. Where we live is surrounded by hills, so it’s easy to get out without putting ourselves in danger.”

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And she feels glad the government has acted. She says: “I know it’s going to be tough, but we’ll hopefully get through it.”

In Italy, which has the most cases of any country outside China and has seen more than 1200 deaths, people are beginning to come to terms with a new normal. All shops except food shops and pharmacies are closed, markets have been dismantled, cafes and bars are closed and people are confined largely to their homes.

Neighbourhoods are fighting isolation by arranging community meetings for songs and music making on their balconies, popular Italian songs echoing across the dark, sending a strong and moving message of solidarity in difficult times.

The National: Phil Cox with his son RomeoPhil Cox with his son Romeo

Phil Cox, a UK filmmaker currently based in Palermo, has spent the days cycling deserted streets with his son Romeo and the evenings joining music making parties on the balconies. He says his neighbours are looking out for each other.

But for others the strain in showing. With poorer families cooped up in small apartments with up to six children. “The whole neighbourhood hears the family wars,” he says.

Alice Facchini, a journalist from Bologna is finding it tough to come to terms with the huge changes to her life in recent weeks. Now she works from home and misses the social interaction from colleagues and friends, yoga and music classes.

“If you go to the supermarket you need to wait outside in a queue because they don’t want a lot of people inside at the same time,” she says. “You cannot meet friends anywhere – it’s forbidden to meet at your house, pubs and bars are closed. Now also parks have closed.” She’s not been able to visit her parents who live 1km away, or her grandmother.

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“I am becoming quite claustrophobic,” she says. “But we try to enjoy the fact that we have a lot of time to read, watch films, play music, cook together and so on. My flatmates are super and I love them, so we are a small family of three.”

She’s most worried about the most vulnerable. “For homeless people it’s really hard, everybody avoids them as for them the risk to get ill is higher of course,” she says. But there’s also a sense of community on show with community radio stations setting up and taxis providing free journeys for those who really need to get around.

The National: Alice FacchiniAlice Facchini

Elena Denicolo, is a medical graduate from Rimini waiting to start work as a doctor. There are so many cases in the district that the local hospital has just become a so-called Covid-19-hospital, which means that most wards have changed their regular activities to accommodate patients in need of hospital care for virus-related symptoms.

There have been reports of overwhelmed health services setting up makeshift wards in warehouses.

“Northern Italy local hospitals are in trouble,” she says. “But for the moment they’re managing to cope with the huge number of patients.” Strict hygiene protocols are in place but more recruitment of health staff is ongoing, allowing her to start work very soon, a process that would usually be slower and more bureaucratic.

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But there are plenty of personal complications in her life. Her 92-year-old grandmother, who has Alzheimer’s, lives in a nursing home which has been closed to visitors since March 5. “My mother used to visit her every day after work,” she says. “She is in great distress about not being able to see her mother and she is also worried for her fragile health. Many Italian families are in the same awful situation.

The National: Elena DenicoloElena Denicolo

“Similarly, when patients need to be hospitalised, family members are not allowed to visit them, which means that these people will die alone and away from their loved ones.”

But despite the pain of that, she believes these measures are needed. “This approach might seem too extreme for someone who has not fully understood the extent of the risk of this epidemic,” she suggests. “But this virus spreads so fast that, without measures aimed at restricting people’s contacts and mobility, hospitals will soon become overcrowded and unable to provide the best care for everyone.

“To me the Italian approach seems to be the most compassionate and ‘human’ in the broadest sense of this term. It puts the same value on everybody’s life, whether they are the young or elderly, healthy or unwell.”