Family members perform yoga at their home following Prime Minister Narendra Modi's recent advise during a 21-day government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus in Hyderabad on March 31, 2020.
AFP/Noah Seelam
How to survive a lockdown: Miners, lone sailor, plane crash survivors give tips
Paulina Abramovich ( - March 31, 2020 - 4:43pm

CHILE — Survivors from two dramatic rescues that captivated the world, the 2010 Chilean mine collapse and the 1972 Andes plane crash, gave their advice for how to surivive a lockdown as the number of Latin American coronavirus cases soared past 10,000 Friday.

"Don't give up guys! A sense of humor is very important," said Mario Sepulveda, one of 33 Chilean miners who spent more than two months trapped nearly half a mile underground at the San Jose mine in northern Chile.

"Organize your homes! Make and stick to routines so as not to get bored. There are many things you can do!" the upbeat Sepulveda told AFP.

"Let's do what we are told, it is super important," Sepulveda said about social distancing and hand-washing requirements. "It's no longer a political problem, today it is simply a health problem."

The miners spent 69 days trapped in the depths of the mine, in the Atacama desert 800 kilometers (500 miles) north of Santiago, before being brought to the surface.

"We were in a pretty critical situation. We had no way out, there was no way out of that situation," said Luis Urzua, shift manager when a rockfall cut off him and his team from the outside world on August 5, 2010.

During their close-quarters confinement, Urzua said "there was a lot of fellowship, a lot of conversation. We got to know some of the work that various other colleagues did in their different roles."

"The other thing that helped us was prayer," said Urzua, the last man to be brought to the surface on October 13, 2010.

'Unseen enemy' 

Carlos Paez was one of 16 survivors from a plane that crashed in the snow-clad Andes on October 12, 1972 as it was taking a Uruguayan rugby team to a match in Chile.

Twelve people died in the crash, while 17 others succumbed over the next few weeks. Infamously, 16 people managed to survive in the extreme conditions by eating the bodies of the dead which had been preserved in the snow.

"There's a big difference in these two quarantines, if I can call them that. In the first one I experienced, it was 70 days in the Andes mountains but without any resources -- 25 degrees below zero, without food, without communication. And I was 18 years old," Paez told AFP.

The current situation is somewhat easier than his 10 weeks spent sheltering in the plane's fuselage, he said.

"The only thing to do is nothing at all! They send you to stay at home and wash your hands. And you have all the comforts: television, Internet, food. So nothing to complain about," said Paez, now 66.

"In the cordillera we were fighting against a tangible enemy which was the mountains, the snow and the cold, and now we are fighting against an enemy that we cannot see, which is what generates uncertainty. 

"But I am fighting against arrogance. I try to be humble and obey. The message is clear: stay at home and wash your hands. Look how simple that is," said Paez. "I try to be obedient because I want to live." 

Roberto Canessa, 67, another survivor of the Andes crash, advised people to "look for something to do, start a project."

"That's what I did in the mountains. I worked all day so as not to think and not have anxiety or anguish," he told AFP.

These days, Canessa, a cardiologist, is working on a project to provide emergency mechanical respirators to Uruguayan hospitals to help them cope with an expected flood of coronavirus cases.

"Throughout the world there are no respirators available. Just as in the Andes, we have to depend on ourselves. We are not going to wait for helicopters to come or for someone to bring us respirators to Uruguay," he said.

"You have to turn this problem into an opportunity. Crises are what causes inventions to come about."

'Embrace your passion'

Frenchman Jean-Jacques Savin, 73, made a splash last year by crossing the Atlantic alone in a custom-built barrel, a 127-day trip that was followed by thousands via his regular Facebook posts.

In an interview with AFP, the former paratrooper revealed his tactics for fending off cabin fever after France issued strict stay-at-home orders this week to fight the coronavirus outbreak.

Savin spent four months in a barrel with just six square metres (65 square feet) of cramped living space. 

So any advice for people confined to their homes?

"Everyone needs to embrace their passion. This time of isolation can be an opportunity for discovery -- start drawing, learn to play the harmonica, if it doesn't bother the neighbors," he said.

"You need to tire yourself out physically, not mentally, and walk as much as you can. Above all, don't zone out in front of the television at night and then sleep until noon."

Savin managed almost half a year of solitude during a trip on which he was just carried along by the currents.

"When you decide to take on a challenge, no matter what difficulties come up -- except for health problems -- you know at one point it will be over. The solitude never bothered me, I actually appreciated it, because I chose it. 

"I wrote my journal, I read a lot, I exercised... I adapted to the solitude, the weather, I emptied my head and accepted that it would be long. I also knew that it was just for a while."

He was speaking as France was gritting its teeth at the start of a long confinement period -- with only essential trips out of the house allowed -- that could last several weeks or possibly longer to battle the coronavirus.

"In this case, confinement has been imposed on us and quite quickly. But we're not totally isolated, we all have telephones. I have friends who call and they're often bored. I hate to interrupt them, but I have things to do."

Savin said he felt safe hunkering down in the countryside in southwest France, with the confinement rules imposing no major hardship or change in routine for him.

"I'm lucky, I own 40 hectares (100 acres) of pine and oak forests about 12 kilometres from my house in Ares, on the Arcachon bay. I'm living in a 20-square-metre cabin with candles for light, a stove and a stream nearby for taking baths.

"Like everyone else, I have plenty of pasta, rice, semolina. And I love sardines, I have around 30 tins. I can hold out for 25 days, and if I have to stay six months, I'll stay six months.

"This virus is Mother Nature's way of sending us a message. We'll need to listen to it once this is over," he said. — Fabienne Faur, with Gabriela Vaz in Montevideo

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