Foreigners Self-Isolating in Croatia: Do You Feel Safer? Joe From Queens, New York City on Iž

Total Croatia News


April 11, 2020 – Do foreigners in Croatia feel more or less safe sitting out COVID-19 here than in their home country, and what are their experiences? A new series on Total Croatia News, with Joe Orovic from Queens, New York City on the Dalmatian island of Iz as the 35th contributor.

Oxford University recently published some research on government responses to coronavirus which showed that Croatia currently has the strictest measures in the world. While inconvenient, this is a good thing in terms of reducing the spread of the virus, and I am certainly not alone in my admiration of the official Croatian handling of this crisis in recent weeks, both in terms of action and communication. 

But what do other expats here think? And how does it compare with the response in their home country? Would they rather sit this one out here or there? A new series on TCN, we will be featuring expats from all over the world to see what their views are on life in corona Croatia rather than back home. So far we have heard from expats in Croatia from Romania, USA, Ireland, UK, Mexico, Argentina, Spain, Singapore, Holland, Canada, India, Hong Kong, Venezuela, Latvia, China, Honduras, Hungary, Moldova, South Korea, Japan, the Philippines and Germany. Next up, TCN’s Joe Orovic from Queens, New York City on Iž.

If you would like to contribute to this series, full details are below this interview.

Firstly, how are you? Are you alone/with someone? Tell us a little about your situation and sanity levels.

I recently picked up my stupid cat — the clumsy one constantly falling off the windowsill — glared into its chubby face and shouted, “You fool! How can you carry on as if nothing is wrong?!”

The other cat, the cunning one who gifts us dead mice and lizards, relaxed its brow in a judgmental stare. I pointed an accusatory finger in its smug face and said, “You better hope this passes, or you’ll have to eat dead seagulls to survive!” It started licking my finger. 

I’m with my wife, our three dogs and two cats on an island off the coast of Zadar called Iž. It seems six out of the seven of us are handling this pandemic well.

Exactly one month ago, I started a 17-day battle with a mystery ailment. It felt COVID-ish, but was never tested. 

Comparatively speaking, these seasonal allergies making my life miserable at the moment ain’t that bad! In fact, they offer a sense of normalcy.

My mental situation is, I think, every transplant’s situation: experiencing a double-dose of corona anxiety caused by monitoring the virus on multiple fronts. In my case, Croatia and New York City, where family and many of my closest friends sit at the core of the infected Big Apple.

I haven’t had a night of sound, restful sleep in almost two months. Which might explain my arguments with the cats. I tell myself that’s normal. I’ll worry if they start talking back. 

When did you realise that corona was going to be a big issue?

When Dr. Li Wenliang died. The Chinese physician first warned about COVID-19 and was silenced by authorities. He was 34 years old.

If a new pathogen kills those trained to fight it, the rest of us must recognize our innate stupidity, cede control to professionals, and hope for a bit of luck. 

What is your impression of the way Croatia is dealing with the crisis? How safe do you feel?

The more we learn about COVID-19, the more it seems Croatia enjoys natural advantages.

This virus feeds off the negative consequences of modern workdays and socio-economic disparities. You know, that sedentary, stressful routine filled with fatty meals, sugar kicks and no free time, all while navigating a densely populated city choked with pollution and avoiding its complex, costly healthcare system? That lifestyle leads to diabetes, hypertension, asthma, as well underlying and under-treated conditions that COVID-19 relishes.

In that respect, Croatia unwittingly drew a winning hand on nearly all fronts. The comparatively healthier lifestyle, diet, easier tempo, clean air (minus Zagreb), public healthcare system and the many patriotic Croats driving down population density by leaving — these all gave the authorities a good foundation to build upon. 

I worry Croats will squander this advantage and succumb to silly character flaws: impatience, bravado, and reflexively declaring victory. Not to mention the thousands who’ll likely return from pollution-choked, densely-populated economic hubs across the continent.

I’ve been skeptical before and ended up wrong. And I hope in two weeks, I’ll look back at Easter weekend and say I was wrong again.


Mali Iž’s port

Do I feel safe? Sure. The medical community continues to make superhuman sacrifices for everyone around them. That gives me hope.

Now compare that to your home country and how they are handling it. What is Croatia doing better/worse?

Let’s start with the better:

Croatia instituted preventative measures well ahead of time, increased the healthcare system’s capacity and stockpiled medical supplies. This made a world of difference.

Early on, politicians stepped aside and let medical professionals dictate healthcare policy, with economic policy following their lead. People as a result paid attention and, mostly, listened.

As a news junky, I have to commend the Croatian “media” — that perpetual whipping boy casually blamed for every societal ill in this country. It has never been as responsible and professional in its presentation of facts and diligent in reporting the successes and flaws in the government’s efforts. Most importantly, it’s avoiding the dangerous trap of giving time to “It’s just like the flu” skeptics under the guise of “fairness”, something the US media continues to do.

This has, for now, stifled the small-yet-loud cult Croatian contrarians who think skepticism is the ultimate sign of intelligence. You know, those habitually hawking stories about fake moon landings, poisonous vaccines, chemtrails, “9/11 was an inside job”… etc. etc. etc. (Spare me the vitriolic comments and messages.)

The worse:

There is no government official shutting down talk of “life back to normal” and “loosening restrictions.” I understand the folly of constant uncertainty — it’s a political land mine. But the margin for error here is razor-thin.

The response to citizens’ economic hardships has been about the same — hodgepodge and, if you ask enough people, inadequate.

Enforcement of the self-isolation and travel restrictions is, at worst, reportedly non-existent and wholly relying on good faith.

The itch to salvage the tourism season seems to influence long-term projections. This “economy or health” debate exists on both sides of the Atlantic, despite studies showing they’re actually inextricably intertwined — an ongoing pandemic does more economic damage than any measures stopping it.

Neither government is preparing citizens for the prospect of all this lasting into the autumn, which could happen if the medical community doesn’t find quick testing methods and a stopgap treatment. Growing evidence also shows opening borders almost instantly starts another outbreak. Just ask Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan, which had the virus under control until they eased travel restrictions and allowed foreigners to enter. This is a heartbreaking, difficult conversation to have in a country married to tourism. “Your annual source of income may disappear” is a wrenching thing to say. But the sooner it occurs, the sooner people and the government can make provisions, just in case. 


The author’s COVID crew.

What about official communications from the authorities, compared to your home country?

Remember in grade school when the substitute teacher promised a reward if everyone just behaved for 10 more minutes? And then after ten minutes passed, the classroom turned into a zoo?

I get that same sensation when a member of Croatia’s Civil Protection Directorate says, “If things continue this way, we’ll be able to loosen restrictions.”

As for authorities, Croatia and the US have similar systems of decentralized power, passing enforcement and execution of national edicts down to the local level as often as possible. This leads to crossed signals.

When local directorates scuttle travel restrictions wholesale, as Istria did, one has to wonder who holds the ultimate authority. Is any of this coordinated, or voluntary?

You see much the same in the US, with governors dictating policy at a granular level, even though the coronavirus doesn’t recognize state borders.

What’s the one thing you wish you had taken with you into self-isolation?

My mother, who’s riding this out in Queens, isolated at home under the constant din of blaring sirens.

One thing you have learned about yourself, and one thing you have learned about others during this crisis.

I’ve noticed two general responses to the crisis. One group sits on its hands, nervously hoping for things to go back to normal. The other smells an opportunity, while the rules are unclear and everyone’s distracted. Those scheming with novel plans might come out of this with a renewed sense of purpose and contentment. Some may even be successful.

I can say with certainty: the people handling this well don’t spend much time on social media.

As for me? I see at least four crises: a pandemic, a strain on the healthcare system, an economic collapse and a mental health crisis. All are happening at once, but at various speeds. The first two are the most pressing now — getting the virus under control and keeping hospitals at capacity are the priority. But the latter two — economic and mental health — will be the lasting effects for everyone who survives this.

My relationship to all this changed when I accepted I can’t control the virus and healthcare systems beyond following the prescribed measure. But I do have some controls over the economics and mental health aspects, and working on those a little bit every day blunts the constant stream of bad news and simmering anxiety.

Mainly, I want to make sure the cats don’t start talking back. 

Thanks, Joe. Stay safe and see you on the other side.  

TCN is starting a new feature series on foreign experiences of sitting out COVID-19 here in Croatia compared to their home country. If you would like to contribute, the questions are below. Please also include a para about yourself and where you are from, and a link to your website if you would like. Please also send 3-4 photos minimum to [email protected] Subject Corona Foreigner

If you would be interested to record a video version for our partners please let us know in the email. Thanks and stay safe. 

Foreigners Self-Isolating in Croatia: Do You Feel Safer Than in Your Home Country?

Firstly, how are you? Are you alone/with someone? Tell us a little about your situation and sanity levels.

What do you think about the economic measures the government is taking, are they helping your business? (PLEASE IGNORE IF THIS DOES NOT AFFECT YOU)

When did you realise that corona was going to be a big issue? 

What is your impression of the way Croatia is dealing with the crisis? How safe do you feel?

Now compare that to your home country and how they are handling it. What is Croatia doing better/worse?

What about official communications from the authorities, compared to your home country?

What’s the one thing you wish you had taken with you into self-isolation.

One thing you have learned about yourself, and one thing you have learned about others during this crisis. 

TCN has recently become a partner in Robert Tomic Zuber’s new R+ video channel, initially telling stories about corona experiences. You can see the first TCN contribution from this morning, my video from Jelsa talking about the realities of running a news portal in the corona era below. If you would like to also submit a video interview, please find Robert’s guidelines below 


The video footage should be recorded so that the cell phone is turned horizontally (landscape mode).

There are several rules for television and video news:- length is not a virtue- a picture speaks more than a thousand words

In short, this would mean that your story should not last more than 90 seconds and that everything you say in the report should be shown by video (for example, if you talk about empty streets, we should see those empty streets, etc.).

How to do it with your cell phone? First, use a selfie camera to record yourself telling your story for about a minute and a half. Ideally, it would be taken in the exterior, except in situations where you are reporting on things in the interior (quarantine, hospital, self-isolation, etc.). Also, when shooting, move freely, make sure everything is not static.

After you have recorded your report, you should capture footage that will tell your story with a picture, such as an earlier example with empty streets.

One of the basic rules of TV journalism is that the story is told in the same way as a journalist with his text. Therefore, we ask you for additional effort. Because we work in a very specific situation, sometimes you may not be able to capture footage for each sentence of the report. In this case, record the details on the streets: people walking, the main features of the city where you live, inscriptions on the windows related to the virus, etc.

The same rules apply if you are shooting a story from your apartment, self-isolation, quarantine. We also need you to capture footage that describes your story.

When shooting frames to cover your reports, it is important that you change the angle of the shot (in other words, shoot that empty street from several angles). Also, when shooting a detail, count at least five seconds before removing the camera to another detail.

The material should be about 5 minutes long (90 seconds of your report + frames to cover your story).

After recording everything, send us to Zagreb, preferably via WeTransfer to [email protected]


Wash your hands.


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