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Our apartments just aren’t designed for self-isolation

How do you spend a week in Covid-19 quarantine in a living space designed for you to be out of it most of the time?

Our apartments just aren’t designed for self-isolation


March 11th, 2020

Italy has just effectively put millions of people in quarantine, in what is likely to be the first of a series of global shutdowns on entire districts. Health organisations the world over are rushing to train people to wash their hands (and… seriously, did people genuinely need to be told about that?) while questions about the transmissibility and infection rate of the burgeoning global pandemic are hotly debated – or, at least, speculated upon – throughout the world’s media.

But if you’re an Australian then we know exactly what you’ve been doing to combat the risk of Covid-19 (sung to the tune of ‘Come On Eileen’. now that’s in your head forever and you’re welcome): you’ve been buying toilet paper.

Why exactly everyone’s been stocking up on TP is not clear, since the disease is respiratory rather than gastrointestinal. The best explanation is that people are anticipating being stuck in their homes for weeks on end, or they believe toilet paper has some sort of talismanic property which wards off unclean spirits. That, or it’s just textbook madness-of-crowds stuff, which should make us even less confident about humanity’s ability to deal with the large-scale threats to civilisation which climate change has already sent down the pipeline.

Let’s be clear, despite what Barnaby Joyce will incorrectly tell you while comparing Covid-19 (oh I swear!) to the apparently ever-present risk of snakes, the first idea isn’t simply rampant craziness. 

After all, there are increasingly loud calls for people to self-isolate for weeks on end, with cancellations of events and the likely expansion of schools, kindergartens and universities being shut down in an attempt to stop the transmission of the virus.

Salone del Mobile in Milan has already been postponed

And sure, there’s something appealing about being told to stay home to Netflix and Ill. At least, if you’re someone with sick leave and/or a job you can do remotely. Doable for data entrants and social media managers; a little trickier for plumbers and hairdressers.

But self-isolation looks very different depending on the place you live. For one thing, what if you’re not a house dweller? What if you’re one of the hundreds of thousands of Australians living in a city apartment?

See, our modern apartments are not really designed as places to live so much as places to crash. The thinking behind most designs, not unreasonably, is that those who chose to live in the city just need their domicile as a location to sleep, wash and leave their stuff, and otherwise trade personal space for access to the shared parks, thoroughfares, shopping centres and dining opportunities afforded by metropolitan living.

And that’s a great lifestyle trade-off, provided that you have access to said metropolis. What happens when that’s curtailed by, say, a global virus outbreak and you have to hole up at home?

Pictured: You in 2 months time

Anyone who’s been sick for an extended period can tell you how quickly the thrill of moving from bed to couch to toilet can be, but in an apartment where they’re all within sight of one another the possibility of going completely stir-crazy increases exponentially. But it’s not just a psychological issue: a lot of apartments have big practical limitations when dealing with an epidemic of Covid-19 (too-lo-rye-ay!).

Most apartment kitchens are for whipping up a snack rather than preparing a family meal; cupboards are for keeping a couple of two-minute noodle packets rather than 70 desperately hoarded 24 packs of toilet paper. And nothing makes 128.8 square metres of average Australian apartment floorspace feel cramped like towers of TP and boxes of jealously-guarded hand sanitiser. 

That sanitiser’s going to be necessary though, since living in an apartment means touching things which everyone else has touched, from lift buttons to door handles, and that appears to be the main vector by which the virus is transferred. So, stop it with the facemasks, city dwellers, and start fighting in supermarkets over packets of disposable gloves.

Incidentally, there are online tips for those apartment dwellers who are looking to go full-prepper with limited space, with advice ranging from the reasonable (store non-perishable food, own candles) to the bracingly paranoid (install a secondary front door as security against the intruding hordes). 

Pictured: Still you

And yes, one did recommend stocking up on toilet paper (as opposed to tissues or paper towels) because it’s a more versatile paper good, so look: why not make the most of this opportunity to become a paranoid shut in terrified of the outside world? If you’ve got the TP, you’re probably already halfway there. And maybe that’ll be the true legacy of Covid Eileen (in that dress!). 


If you loved this, we think you’d might like Hostile architecture is turning our cities against us.

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