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17 April

OVs stories from around the world- France & Laos

Last week we were pleased to share OV stories from around the UK, USA, Austria and Japan about how OVs have been affected by Coronavirus. This week we have news from Alex in France and Michael in Laos.

We really enjoy reading these OV news updates so if you live abroad and would like to share your story please do let us know at

France: Alex Humpage-Versavaud (S 94-03)

OV Alex Humpage-Versavaud working from home

This week Emmanuel Macron announced that lock down measures would be in place until May 11th. Then we should start to see gradual easing. This will mean the country will have been confined for two months. It feels as though the response here has been fairly clear and consistent. Although the measures seem draconian, our close proximity to Northern Italy is a reminder of the effects this virus can have. Closer to home several relatives on my wife’s side of the family have been struck down by COVID-19 for a thoroughly unpleasant time.

Professionally I’m quite lucky – my sector, video games, is enjoying something of a boom as everyone is playing more because there are fewer alternatives and everyone’s at home. I have had several new business pitches and marketing strategies to develop since working from home was enforced. Projects vary from Destiny 2 to Candy Crush Saga! However for many others, my wife included, the French equivalent of the furlough (chômage technique) is in effect. I wonder about the economic impact on small and medium businesses particularly later this year.

Personally there are some challenges although my wife and I are lucky enough to have spent a long time travelling together with often only each other for company – so it’s perhaps not as much of an adjustment as for some couples. Living centrally in a big city means there is plenty of human contact despite the distancing measures in place. We have neighbours’ children playing in the courtyard next to our garden and on Saturday there was a music festival played from a nearby balcony, which the neighbourhood was involved in whether it wanted to be or not! To leave the house we have to have a signed letter (which we write and sign ourselves) and in theory can only go up to 1km from our residence to buy food or have a modicum of walking exercise. Despite this, queues at the supermarket (due to social distancing measures) often stretch all the way down the street.

Despite the monotony there’s something exciting about knowing billions of people around the world are living a shared reality in ways perhaps not similarly experienced ever before. I hope all OVs, staff and current pupils and families are doing well in these strange times.


Laos: Michael Boddington MBE (S 55-58)OV Michael Boddington in his office

Laos continued for what seemed like a long time as a COVID-19-free country – I watched as the number of afflicted countries mounted through the 10s, and then through the 100s, until finally, on March 24th, it was announced that we had two cases.  We were the 193rd country to join the ranks of that dubious club.  Now (April 16th) we have 19 cases, of whom one has recovered.  There was a certain symmetry about having 19 cases!  Two of them have been students returning from UK!

Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford University has prepared an index of countries according to how stringent or otherwise their response to the virus has been.  The most stringent get a 100 score, and Laos is one of three such nations (along with Vietnam and New Zealand).  A rare first for Laos PDR to come top of the class.

Long before we had even one single case, the government started taking measures to ensure that Laos was not afflicted:  borders were closed, flights to and from affected countries were stopped, pre-schools, kindergartens and primary schools were closed – a preliminary to closing all educational establishments – anyone coming from overseas was put into quarantine for 14 days – not an encouraging start to a fortnight’s holiday!  Lockdown started on April 1st and has just been extended from April 19th to May 3rd.   These were draconian measures.  But GoL made a promise in January 2020, that it would prevent COVID-19 from making landfall in Laos and it aimed to stand by that pledge.

OV Photo outside Mike Boddington's office

For me, there are no hardships.  I feel very sad for those in early and mid-careers, with families, mortgages and other responsibilities.  Thirty or forty years ago something like this would have wiped me out – and I didn’t need any help in that!  In my retirement, I run a homestay in the middle of a jungle.  Well, there have been no guests since March 24th.  My continuing work with disabled people has been sorely interrupted and I just hope that those folk with whom I am directly involved can hang on out there.

Laos has a model for the world in these stricken times, working from grass-roots outwards:  individual tolerance, familial ties, cohesive community and compassion for all.  These are the way forward in a post-COVID-19 world.