Lives interrupted: two young sisters look back on Bangkok lockdown


Bangkok (AFP)

For young sisters Yohan and Alyson, the stress of a three-month coronavirus lockdown in a foreign city was assuaged by family and Netflix, theirs just two of the childhoods interrupted across the world due to a pandemic which has upset how kids learn, play and interact.

An AFP photographer followed the Filipinas, aged nine and four respectively, chronicling their lives indoors over several weeks in an 80-square-metre (860-square-foot) apartment in downtown Bangkok.

The siblings, who moved to Thailand in 2017 because of their father's engineering job, are now allowed out of their home.

But looking back on photos of a period that will define their young lives, the pair react with delight and curiosity.

As for millions of others, Netflix became a fixture of their lives inside, with "Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance", a regular source of comfort and entertainment for Yohan, the eldest.

"I'm a fan! I started watching it during lockdown," she told AFP, thrilled that the photos captured her initial discovery of the show.

The siblings are among more than a billion children worldwide whose normal lives the pandemic disrupted, according to a UN agency.

COVID-19's economic impact has also left parents jobless, hollowing out the diets of the world's poorest children and heaping hardship on already difficult lives.

Thailand, which has won plaudits for keeping the caseload down, reopened schools in early July.

But the pupils who returned were greeted by plastic barriers in classrooms, staggered attendance days and strict social distancing.

The girls' mother, Odette Jacalan, says she took the lockdown more seriously than some other parents.

Fears of her children contracting the illness were a constant weight on her mind, she told AFP, with her husband posted temporarily in Taiwan as the virus struck.

Alyson said she was delighted to have her older sister at home during the lockdown.

"When I wake up, I say, 'We can play!'" she says.

It will be months -- perhaps years -- before researchers can tell how lockdowns have impacted children's development.

But initial research by Oxford University shows that young children have experienced an increase in emotional difficulties after just one month at home.

The effects vary depending on how well a child is doing at school, and how strong their support systems are at home, child experts say.

Examining a photo of herself staring out of the window towards her father's Bangkok office, Alyson simply shrugs.

"I was seeing if Daddy is here."