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Podcast Episode 20: Coronavirus Special with Simon Leclercq (Doctor & Photographer)

We’re bringing you a special podcast episode today, as we discuss coronavirus with very special guest Simon Leclercq. Simon is in quite a unique position to discuss this with us, as, not only is he a brilliant wedding photographer (having won 8 awards from us in total), but he has also been a doctor for over 5 years, and is currently on the frontlines working on this global pandemic. We discuss lots of aspects in this episode, both from a health point of view, and in terms of our wedding photography businesses, including:

  • what’s happening in Belgium right now (where Simon is based),
  • analysing what’s happening in other countries and taking action,
  • the vitalness of protecting the elderly and those with underlying health conditions,
  • the psychological effect of isolation and loneliness,
  • the good and bad side of social media during all of this,
  • the power of good deeds,
  • trying not to worry about how long it could last (as we just don’t know),
  • the impact on us as wedding photographers and the importance of positivity,
  • making the most of any financial help, including mortgage holidays,
  • using our own personal strengths and creativity to help others,
  • practical tips and advice on how to get through this, both mentally and on a business level,
  • why self-isolation is absolutely vital,
  • why there’s no need to panic but how we need to take our responsibilities seriously,
  • why the vast majority of weddings, if affected, will be postponements rather than cancellations, and a great practical tip on how to deal with postponements for dates you can’t do,
  • how everybody can make a difference,
  • and more

Listen within this post (where there is also a full transcript), iTunes/Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and YouTube.

Alan Law

Hey Simon, how you doing?

Simon Leclercq

Hey Alan. Fine, I’m fine. How are you?

Alan Law

I’m okay. I’m okay. I know very, very strange times, very bizarre situation to be talking to you under as well. But yeah, so how’s… I mean, can you say just a little bit about you, you know, so I know you’re obviously a brilliant wedding photographer but you’re also a doctor as well. So how long have you been a doctor?

Simon Leclercq

So I have been a doctor since 2014. So that’s five years. I trained to be a GP so in Belgium, you have to train for two extra years on top of the seven years that you’ve done to become a fully qualified GP. It’s nine years but you’re paid the last two years so it’s a decent pay. It’s not massive money, but it’s a good pay for someone that’s 25

Alan Law

Right. Yeah.

Simon Leclercq

Yeah, I just started working as a GP, I started my own practice after two years with a friend of mine. But that, yeah, combined with how wedding photography was becoming a bigger part of my life. And it was, it was pretty much impossible to combine because being a GP in Belgium, just to kind of, say how it, is that you’re self employed. So you have your own little business and your own patients. You have to have your own building and all of that. So there’s a lot that comes in there. It’s like, yeah, it’s not like a practice of the NHS, where there’s a building that’s established, and they have secretaries that are all paid by the state. So, you’re self employed, so it’s kind of tricky on that point, as well. And it was just a combination with wedding photography was becoming, becoming a burden, really, I wasn’t enjoying it anymore. It was very stressful so in, I think, August or half of August beginning of September 2019 – so not that long ago – I went full time photography and yeah…

Alan Law

That’s not that long ago as well… you’re doing so amazingly well, you’ve won so many Reportage Awards as well, you’re just nailing it. But now as well so you’re still keeping your hands in with the doctor. So you’re in a kind of a unique position really at this time with the coronavirus as well. I mean, I know you’re in Belgium, what’s the scene like, man? What is happening.

Simon Leclercq

So I wanted to go full time wedding photography, I said to myself, now’s the time. I’m not going to wait until I’m 40 to do it because that might be too late. Although anybody who’s 40 and going full time, please go for it. I had to go for it. 100% because I, I felt I kind of owed it to myself, but then my colleague who was in the first practice where I worked, she was nagging me and nagging me because she was about to have a third child. And she was saying, Can you sub for me during the winter for two months, and I said, after four times that she’d asked, I’ll do it, I’ll do it. And that’s what I was doing. And then all of a sudden, this coronavirus just kind of took everybody by surprise, really,

Alan Law

Oh, man, and now it’s obviously, well, a worldwide pandemic, and it’s on the tip of everyone’s tongue. And it’s all a lot of people can think about like me, it’s a very, very stressful time, but you’re right there on the forefront of it now. And so what’s it like…what’s it like in Belgium?

Simon Leclercq

So, what we’ve had the last two weeks, because we’re literally talking about two weeks time that the whole world has been turned upside down, really. And the thing is before, we were hearing stories of the epidemic in China, but it doesn’t really filter through to the Western media really or not to that extent that it was alarming. And then all of a sudden it, it kind of erupted in Italy. And that’s two weeks ago. And well, we can see what’s going on there at the moment. And it was just spreading after the holidays, people coming back from Italy from holidays. And then within 10 days time we went from five infections to as of today, I think it’s 1200 infections, although these numbers are just not representative for what the actual number of infections is because we’ve just stopped testing because we just don’t have enough resources to to be able to do that at the moment. So what has happened in Belgium is actually just the same as what’s happened in Italy and Spain and France, is that gradually people are taking precautions. And every few days, the government enforces other measures. And what we are in now is kind of a lockdown, but it’s it’s a very Belgian lockdown. It’s kind of a lockdown, but it isn’t. And it’s a reflection of what the Belgium politics is. It’s a bit unstable and everybody has a lot of different opinions. While, well, it’s just a matter of time before, we’re taking the same measures as France and Spain. And to be honest, we should have already taken them by now.

Alan Law

I know, and it’s so surprising how the UK Government seems to be taking that such a slow approach. I mean, I obviously I’m not an expert. And there’s so many different reasons why, but I think it was very surprising for us over here, you know, Boris’s reactions or inactions over the past week and a half.

Simon Leclercq

I think it’s very important to know that this is a new virus, in very many ways, and that we’re taken by surprise, really, even the professionals like, like us who are dealing with it, we’re kind of waiting to see what’s going to happen. And we have the advantage here in Belgium that we can look at what’s happening in France and Spain and in Italy, because it kind of seems to have the same progression. And, indeed, I’m not 100% up to date with what’s happening in the UK, but they seem to be…are reacting quite slowly. It’s not up to me to say, any political statements, but here in Belgium, at a certain point, the experts or the virologists and the doctors and the nurses are saying, okay, you really have to start listening to us, because this is going to get out of control. And that’s the thing, really what it is, is you have this battle between experts and politicians and they’re all, they’re all defending their own importances. But that’s not always a bad thing on one side, we look at it from our perspective from a medical perspective, and we are alarmed by certain things, but we have no idea about the socio economic implications these decisions have and that’s what the politicians have to do. So, I mean, we will have to look back on this in several months time or in a couple of years time and think, Okay, how could we have done it better, but the fact that this is something that is new and very little is known about it takes everybody by surprise, but I mean, at a certain point, you kind of have to draw your conclusions about what’s going on in other countries, and take action. So yeah.

Alan Law

Oh man, it’s so scary. And from a personal viewpoint for me, just in my situation, just because I’ve got an elderly father. You know, he’s nearly 80. And he has a condition anyway, COPD and obviously that really worries me. We’ve been telling him that he has to stay inside…so you, as a doctor, you know, what do you think about that? That advice?

Simon Leclercq

I think it’s, if you really boil it down to the bare essentials of what needs to happen is it’s very clear if you look at the numbers of China, and other countries that are affected, that the elderly are severely affected by this virus. We talk about 60 and over, 80 and over, those are the really risky ages. 60 years old and older, with underlying health conditions and 80 and older are definitely people that we have to protect and it’s really simple, is anybody that has an underlying health condition, and has a certain age really has to protect themselves from at all costs, really. I don’t want to sound alarming, but if you look at the figures that we’re getting from China, and all of that is it’s 15% fatalities with people that are older than 80. I mean, the numbers don’t lie. That’s massive.

Alan Law

15%? Yeah, that’s huge. It’s huge, though.

Simon Leclercq

So I mean, if you just look at it from from a broader perspective, you just got to protect the elderly, and you make sure that they don’t come outside, and that, that they stay in and don’t get infected. It’s very simple, but at the same time, it’s very hard. Because when there is no sense of urgency in a population, people don’t seem to find it…don’t find the need to act accordingly. And it’s understandable, of course, I mean, we all have our things that we don’t really act on because we think oh, it doesn’t affect us until it kicks us in the ass. So, I think the main medical advice I could give is protect the ones that are at risk, and that’s the elderly, so people over 60 with underlying health conditions, and especially the older people 75 and over 80 and be really, really, really careful and just lock them down. That sounds a bit scary, but just protect them at all costs.

Alan Law

Yeah, it has to be done, doesn’t it, I know, it sounds scary, but it just has to be done like no visitors at all, online grocery shopping and it’s, it’s tough. You know, my mom obviously is gonna miss her grandkids loads, but we started to have like Skype video, you know, chats and that kind of little things like that helps because it’s also the physical isolation is going to be, you know, a real downer, a big problem for a lot of people.

Simon Leclercq

Oh, yeah. Yeah, definitely. I think loneliness is something that is severely underestimated, and especially people that are older, are already usually quite lonely. And if you look at it on a broader perspective, that maybe they have the grandkids coming around once a week. Or they really look forward to seeing their children, and even though it’s once every fortnight, just the perspective of that not happening in an unforeseeable future is a hit on a psychological level. So I think it’s very important to realise that being isolated is something that is gravely underestimated. But at the same time, my husband, he has to work home now. And it’s funny because we were talking about this the other day, and it’s been now two or three days and he’s like, God, this is harder than I thought it would be. And it is it’s, it is lonely. And I was like, Well, yeah, this is, this is what I was running into as when I went full time, full time photographer. You just okay, you get up and you sit behind your desk and it’s like, I got all the time in the world and for some reason or the other, it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Alan Law

That’s so true.

Simon Leclercq

Yep.

Alan Law

It is so true, we’ve kind of been in this kind of like self isolated state for a long time. I guess we should be kind of good at it.

Simon Leclercq

Yeah we’re good at it.

Alan Law

What do you think about kind of… what scares me as well is this… everybody pretends or thinks that they’re an expert on so many different things. So you go on social media and you hear so many different things. What’s your take on that?

Simon Leclercq

That’s the tough bit because that’s the other side of the coin when it comes to to social media. I’ve seen so many positive things on social media, the last couple of weeks, and even just the last couple of days. Just to give you an example, we had someone come in today, he has a massive building firm. And he brought us 350 masks, which is massive, and they were the FFP2 and P3 masks, which are the ones you really need to protect yourself, but I mean, that’s like a market value of like 1500 euros he just said here take it, which is, which is fantastic. I put it on Facebook, and I think it got shared like 20 times, not for me, but just maybe it could be an example for anyone else who, who is in the construction and might have some of these lying around but don’t realise what the fundamental impact is of being able to provide proper protection for healthcare workers.

Alan Law

That’s proper cool. You say it’s like 1500 euro market value, it’s actually probably like 2 million euro market value now.

Simon Leclercq

Oh, yeah, probably. Yeah. We were joking about it. So, how much money can we get if we sold this on the black market? No, we kept a couple because the thing is, as a GP, we have to do a lot of triage through phone. So we have to avoid all patient contacts as of now and try to see who is sick through the phone and try and estimate does this person need help? Does this person need to be seen? But then it’s difficult because you’re trying to see, okay, do I need to examine this person? Or does this person have to go straight to the accident and emergency? So we do need to see patients, but those patients are higher risk, because you’ve already evaluated the risk beforehand. And yesterday, we used the last FFP2 mask which is the mask that we would really need to be able to examine someone properly and I had it on yesterday, the guy had a coronavirus. And I was like, okay, you’re fine. You’re okay, go home, isolate yourself, protect the others around you. But to come back to your question, because I went on a on a wild little tangent there… But then the guy brought in all these masks today and we kept a couple for us to be able to do our work and then we brought the rest to the local hospital. But to come back to your question, the thing is, and that’s what kind of flabbergasted me is that, I mean, everybody is an expert, and the experts have no clue what’s going on. So that’s kind of the contradiction that it is, is there’s so much information online, and there’s so much information coming to the public, but to us as professionals as well. So we’re learning as we go along. And nobody’s really sure where this is going to go and how it’s going to how to end and when it’s going to end. And then when people start posting and ranting and throwing with numbers and statistics. I mean, there’s not really much point because nobody really knows what is right and wrong and might as well post something that is positive and try to find a way to help, really, I think that’s important because I’ve literally had several patients on the phone the last couple of days during the consultations through the phone, but people who have some mental health issues, that’s a lot of our work as a GP to take care of those. But you can imagine when they’re opening the papers and the news at this time, they’re just completely anxious, and losing it to be honest. So, and I’ve literally had to say to several people, turn off all of your social media, don’t go on the news sites, and just watch the BBC News or what the equivalent is here in Belgium. Just watch that once a day. All the rest. It’s very clear just got to stay inside and stay away from other people and the elderly. That’s all it boils down to and we’ll all brace together and hope it passes soon really. Yeah, I think it’s just important to know that we all underestimate the impact that our social media presence has, how little or how big it is, and I think it’s important to try and make it as positive positive as possible. Ranting and spreading information that is completely uncertain is just not going to get anyone anywhere so yeah, it’s a tough one it’s really difficult because certain media especially like the tabloids, and all of that are really making a clickbait frenzy out of all of this.

Alan Law

Yeah, especially with Brexit over as well.

Simon Leclercq

Oh yeah!

Alan Law

No I totally agree with you with what you’re saying there about social media as well and also what you said about how, how great it can be and how our community is kind of banded together and that’s a great thing about it. But there are those downsides as well. And like for me… everybody’s in a different kind of position. And yet you get these people saying how you should do this. You should do that in terms of their businesses as well, but a one size fits all approach just doesn’t work for us as businesses either.

Simon Leclercq

No, no, it doesn’t. It doesn’t because the thing is, everybody is kind of panicking, which I completely understand, is as a wedding photographer or as a wedding photography business. You’re, you have no idea where this is going. And that’s the interesting part of the position that I’m in.

Alan Law

Yeah, it’s quite a unique position. I mean it’s amazing what you’re doing man but do you worry about yourself and getting ill from being on the front line like that and then your own weddings as well and things.

Simon Leclercq

Well, the first part is, I mean, I’m probably going to get this virus, there is pretty much no way about… There’s no way around it to be honest. And the fact of the matter is, I might already have had it because the problem with this virus is the transmission is probably done by asymptomatic people. And we don’t even know how it transmits. People are saying, okay, it’s a droplet infection, which means sneezing and coughing into your hands and then you have contact with someone. But I mean, all of this is uncertain, but I’m yeah, I’m pretty sure I’ll get it at some point or the other.

Alan Law

Does that concern you? From what you’ve seen or you know, are you ok with that…?

Simon Leclercq

To be honest, it’s part of the job when you’ve been in this profession for a certain time, you kind of have to kind of get used to dealing with the certain parts of it. I mean, here in Belgium, we have euthanasia that is legal. And yeah, ending someone’s life. It’s part of the job as well sometimes and you kind of learn to deal with it. It puts a lot of stuff into perspective. So taking a hit from a viral infection. Well, if it comes, it comes, and I hope it doesn’t get too bad. So it’s part of it really.

Alan Law

Oh, man, well what you’re doing is so amazing. It is so amazing. Has it had an impact on your weddings yet, as well?

Simon Leclercq

We had one wedding that’s cancelled. I was going to shoot a wedding with a friend in Austria and that was cancelled, or postponed, we don’t really know what’s happening. I think I have my first wedding that I’m shooting on my own is on the 18th of April. And it’s the wedding of a doctor colleague as well. So I think she’s just got her hands fullnow as well and she’s gonna probably take a decision last minute. Yeah, so um, to be honest, I’m not too I’m not preoccupied by this at this moment.

Alan Law

No, and I understand that and obviously you’re on the frontlines of the health and obviously the health aspect is obviously the most important thing by a billion miles. It’s just obviously I know a lot of people listening to this as well are going to be concerned for their livelihoods, and it’s not just their livelihoods, it for some people it’s, you know, their homes. Literally it could be. And so it’s just a scary time.

Simon Leclercq

Oh yeah definitely. I don’t want to give the impression that I don’t take this serious for everything outside of health. The socio economic implications of this crisis will be massive, absolutely huge. Even if you just look at the stock market, it’s just completely plummeting. And the thing is, I’m in it. I mean, I’m halfway in the wedding industry as well, the only thing that I have is the advantage that if it gets really out of hand, then I can still be a doctor, which they’ll pretty much always need but at the same time, I’m very much aware of the fact that this is going to have a massive impact on a lot of people, even to the extent that it could mean bankruptcy or, or really going to have to sell things or even lose their homes, potentially. But I think what I want to urge on that level is that at this point in time, we have no idea where it’s going. And that every ounce of energy that you could lose in worrying about it at this moment is lost energy. And that’s easy said from my point of view, I know that’s easily said and it is having impact on people. But I think at this moment, we don’t know if this is gonna last until the half of April. And if it’s gonna last ’til August or September, I’m hearing people worried that it would last until August or September. But to be honest, even me as a professional who’s in this the whole time doesn’t know how long it’s going to last. But I do know that it’s just important to try and see which funds and trust funds that there are, which financial manoeuvres are given by the governments because here in Belgium, they are starting to release funds for small businesses, and it will inevitably come for other businesses in other countries. I think it’s just important for the community to stick together now and see and help each other. What is possible, how can we help each other on that level? And try not to worry too much about how long this is gonna last? Because we have no idea how long it’s gonna last.

Alan Law

Yeah, there’s nothing we can do on that really is there but apart from our roles of self isolating and not flouting, you know, the good advice out there, the health advice. I mean recently as well the UK Government announced that people will be able to have like a three month mortgage holiday which I know already quite a lot of my photography colleagues are taking out and apparently for a lot of people it’s been quite easy and I’m sure over the next couple of days it will be easier to do that once you know the way that this is happening gets ironed out. So that can alleviate people’s pressures quite a lot. I do urge people to make the most of whatever is offered out there obviously.

Simon Leclercq

Yeah, it’s funny because it’s great how people help each other out and maybe just like the small things just make a massive difference. Just like an example you have Dries Rengle who’s part of, one of the Belgian photographers. He’s very well known here. Because he’s kind of a bit of the Godfather who raised everybody…

Alan Law

Ha yeah, Yves lived with him for a while, didn’t he?

Simon Leclercq

Yeah. So, but the funny thing is he had this, this bus that he’d completely redone. And there’s like a bed and all of that. It’s like a mini house. And on Monday, I called him and I said, Well, I know you’re a bit of a handyman, could you make like a plexiglass screen for our secretary because it’s just like an open void where patients come in and start talking to them. And he was like, yeah, and three hours later, he had built this fantastic plexiglass wooden frame. And he popped it in and it was fine, it was good. It was good. But I mean, that’s great. It’s just showing people using they’re using their strengths to help others out. And as a photographer it’s difficult because it’s hard. How can we be creative and use our strengths to help others but maybe it’s not only photography, maybe you can help someone out in another way and it’s important to to be creative and think outside the box. And not worry too much. I mean, we’ll all survive this, I hope, fingers crossed.

Alan Law

That’s so true, though, what you’re saying, and we can help each other in so many ways, and I found, you know, just personally for me, it is stressful. It’s stressful at times it’s like, it’s like you feel like you’re in a bit of a daze. But I found to just even doing some work, you know, just can take your mind off things that can be really helpful on a personal, kinda, mental health kind of way. And I do feel, like, from my personal viewpoint, I know it may seem strange, kind of promoting our wedding photography business, but I feel like it’s still so important to do, you know, so we’ve got a business that’s still there when hopefully this passes.

Simon Leclercq

Absolutely, definitely. If you look at this from a mental health perspective, we’re all going into isolation. I think it won’t take long before the UK will be locking down completely and others countries will follow. Well, I hope so because I mean, we don’t know how we have to contain this virus with any other means. But I think the mental health part of what is going to happen is a very important way of dealing and coping with the situation. Whereas that getting up and having a certain rhythm in your day is extremely important. Trying to have some exercise is very important as well, because the hormones that are released when you do some exercise are very stress reductant. And by that, I mean it does make a fundamental difference. It’s easier said than done, because I mean, I don’t have any kids, I have a dog that needs to be let out three times a day. I have a lot of respect of people that are isolated with their kids now are in lockdown with their kids and have to entertain kids a long time. But I think for everybody on a mental health level, it’s just important to try and have a very structured way of living because that’s the only thing that’s going to give longevity. If you leave it over to randomness then It’s only going to get a lot harder, a lot quicker. So it’s something that we advise as GPs to, to people that are that are having mental health issues is that structure is the most, most important part of dealing with it, and this is a mental game, it’s more of a mind game than anything else to be honest because it’s very clear we just got to isolate ourselves and protect the elderly from a medical point of view, but the mind game that is going to come along with it, it’s going to be a big challenge as well.

Alan Law

Yeah, definitely. And I know the advice has been even for in as you say, we’re not in full lockdown now, but I’m sure we will be very soon. But the advice is still in the UK for people with conditions, or are over 70 they should be locked down now. But the government also says you know that taking walks is still fine. And just to reiterate that now, that is fine, isn’t it? People can go for walks as long as they’re not in very close contact with other people?

Simon Leclercq

Well, that’s the thing that’s a bit tricky, because over here in Belgium with the lockdown light that we have is that we are still allowed to go outside with our family. So that people that you live with anyway, or one other person, so it’s not ‘and’ it’s ‘or’ one other person. So you can meet up with a friend but you have to keep a distance of one and a half metres. So yeah, that’s what they have over here. But if you’re looking at France and Spain and Italy, it’s full lockdown where they’re literally giving fines to anybody that’s coming out, that’s not allowed to be outside. They’re allowed to do some some exercise if you’re in France, but you have to have a paper and permission. I don’t know how that…

Alan Law

Yeah. How do they police that?

Simon Leclercq

I heard it on the news like a couple of minutes ago, an hour ago. But you have 10,000 police officers that are literally in the streets. And I think the United States is bracing themselves to prevent looters and people breaking into shops. So I think at this moment in time, it’s just important to isolate yourself and your family. And just protect yourself. That’s the most important thing and going outside, it’s healthy and it’s good. If you’ve got a big garden, that’s great go into your garden, and as long as it permits, go outside for a walk, but just be careful and keep your distance from other people because it’s still very little known about this virus. And we don’t know how it’s spreading because it’s spreading very quickly. So just take your precautions really that’s the only thing I can advise, keep distance and going outside is definitely healthy for the mind.

Alan Law

Definitely. Also whilst you’re here and as a doctor, I’m not gonna ask you about random , like…

Simon Leclercq

Yeah, ‘my toes hurting….’

Alan Law

I want to ask you about something that I heard but it hasn’t been written about much in British media, is that, if you start to get the symptoms, our advice in the UK Is that you, you have to self isolate your whole family for 14 days. Let’s say if I got ill, for example and then on day five my son got ill, I’ve heard that you should start – and it makes logical sense – you should start another 14 days isolation from that day that you know, my son got ill. But people are not saying that lots in the media, but that’s how it should be, isn’t it?

Simon Leclercq

Yes. Yeah. In a way it should be that. What we do generally see, and that’s the literature that we have now is that most illnesses have an onset after five days after exposure to another case. And they usually say that the incubation time is seven days, but I think they’ve taken it all the way up to 14 or brought it down from 14 to seven because it was more practical, but 14 days is just to be completely sure, because they’re not 100% sure, because we don’t have enough tests to see if someone still positive at a certain point, and infectious, so yes, self isolation is very important and protecting other family members is at the same time as well. Because I mean to be honest, if I started getting symptoms, I would self isolate myself to my husband. Would I do it or not? Is that necessary? He’s a bit older than I am. His lungs are not the absolute best…yeah then I’m thinking in myself do I need to go and sleep and then on the couch, but to be honest, by the time I developed symptoms he’s probably already got it from me as well. That’s a tough one because we just don’t know. But yeah, I think it’s just important to isolate yourself and then see from there, how it goes. And if you are feeling symptoms, then to contact your general practitioner. I think that’s the most important.

Alan Law

Okay, yeah. Cool. So obviously, you know, self isolation is really, really vital. Can you explain to us, you know, really why that is, in case people just don’t really still understand?

Simon Leclercq

So the self isolation has two implications. On one side, you are protecting the people that are at risk, which is the elderly, we’ve gone over that quite extensively already. So especially the people over 60, and over 80. More so if they have an underlying health condition, which is one part of it, but the self isolation is to protect your healthcare system as well. Because if you don’t isolate yourself, you will be spreading it a lot more to other people. And what you see is it’s a exponential curve. So it takes a little bend, and then it shoots up. And that’s what you’re seeing here in Belgium. That’s what you’re seeing still in Italy, is that suddenly you have this massive surge of people that are sick, and that massively puts your healthcare system massively under stress to the extent that it can collapse a health care system. If you look at Italy now, today, we just saw the news here. You have 475 people that died in 24 hours yesterday just under 400. So that’s, that’s massive. You have people laying in corridors with oxygen, because they just need ICU intensive care. But they’re getting it in the corridor. So the health care system in Italy is just collapsing. And it’s dramatic. Because I remember last weekend, I sent a message to Fabio Mirulla. Just saying hey, mate, I hope you’re okay. Hope your family’s safe? And I mean, just take care. And he said, yeah, it’s just absolutely crazy over here. But he said, everything’s okay as of now. So it’s nuts there. And the thing is the sense of urgency. The sense of urgency isn’t here in Belgium, even though we’re in a lockdown. And the sense of urgency is definitely not in the UK. But the problem is when your healthcare system starts collapsing, that’s when it gets crazy. And it’s by self isolating that you kind of flatten the curve. And by that they mean that you kind of try and limit the amount of people that you infect, to spread out the stress on the healthcare system. That’s the most important thing really. On the one side you’re protecting the fatalities and the vulnerable. But on the other, the other one, and that’s maybe even more important, is you’re preventing your healthcare system from collapsing. Because when that surge comes, there’s nothing you can do about it. We were seeing here in Belgium, we had double the amount of admissions today in hospitals than we had yesterday, so and then the fatalities are going to start following. We don’t have that many fatalities now. But if you look in Italy the fatalities are still going up. So that means they’re not at the peak yet, and the peak is the halfway point, so I mean, yeah, that’s why you have to lock down.

Alan Law

Okay. Wow, you said that very, very well, very emphatically, yeah, people stay inside.

Simon Leclercq

But I mean, to put it within a broader perspective, I think the thing which is, which is the problem with this illness is because it wasn’t taken seriously. It’s a flu like infection, that for the majority of the population is not that harmful. I mean, you’re sick, but it’s not going to kill you. It’s like a severe common flu. But we didn’t know what kind of implications and what kind of spread it had. And suddenly it just bit us in the ass. And that’s, that’s horrible. And what I want to say is, I think it’s showing again, that the sense of urgency always has to be present in our population. And before we act and do something, it really has to be on our doorstep which is a pity, especially with the extent that we use social media. I mean, it could be done better. And that’s one thing. And the other thing is, is there is no need to panic. But I think it’s just important to know what responsibilities we have to take. But the problem is it’s not all it’s not always that clear which responsibilities we have to take because the media and the politicians and the experts and the doctors, they’re all saying different things and that’s the mess that we’re kind of in really so this is my opinion from my point of view so…

Alan Law

Yeah, and of course and oh man we so value your opinion. Because you’re in a perfect place with your opinion as well because you’re a doctor, wedding photographer, you’re seeing it firsthand which for the vast majority of people, we’re not, so you know, thank you so much for your time here.

Simon Leclercq

If you look at it from a wedding wedding perspective. In theory, the quicker you go in lockdown, the quicker you should be able to contain this virus, the quicker weddings will be able to take place. The longer you’re waiting, the longer it lingers on, the more impact that’s gonna have, the more stress there will be on your healthcare system. And the longer it will take for life to get back to normal. So, I do really feel and I do really see that in the Belgian wedding group. People are worried and I really, really, really understand that – same for me as well, I have 25 weddings booked this year. If they start falling down, then I’m gonna have to rethink the career switch that I did to full time wedding photography. But the advantage I have is that I can lean back onto something which gives me, well, a safe income. But I mean, I cannot imagine what kind of impact it has for people who are completely independent of this. And I think it’s just important that I urge to say that we don’t know where this is going but panicking is not going to help and I think it’s just important to try and stick together, help each other out, try and find a creative and inventive way to help others, even if it has nothing to do with wedding photography, and to try and see which things are available from government and government aids and funds and they are coming, they will be coming, but they’re not there now, because they don’t have time to talk about it. They’re still arguing in some countries about whether or not to shut the country down, let alone which financial aid they will be giving. But the thing is, this is such a massive impact. It’s having the same impact on everyone, which is in a way an advantage then if it’s just one part of the population. So yeah, at the end of the day, I hope they will all come across with funds and aids.

Alan Law

Yeah, I hope so too. And I think more is promised by the UK Chancellor, I think coming up in the next few days hopefully for self employed people

Simon Leclercq

Same here in Belgium. Yeah, it’s just you’ve got to stick together and figure it out together because there’s so much information. And it’s not always very clear. I think the coming weeks, it’s just important for everybody to try and figure that out for themselves, but try and figure it out with friends and not hide information from each other because we’re all in the same boat.

Alan Law

Oh yeah, totally. And I know a lot of people listening to this will be worried, they will be worried for health reasons, but they will be worried for their businesses. And you know, I feel worried too, we all do, we’re all in the same boat. But as you say, we’ll all help each other as much as we can as well. So if anybody you know, has specific concerns, they can get in touch with me, you don’t have to be a Reportage member and I’m not an expert on anything, but you know, I can help as much as I can

Simon Leclercq

Yeah, same here.

Alan Law

Yeah, that’s awesome, man. I didn’t want to say just in case you get bombarded by like, 1000 health issues now, all around the world.

Simon Leclercq

I probably will. I probably will anyway, but I think it’s just important. I mean, if someone asked me something, is the answer to the question that I’m going to give, can someone else give it? I’m probably busy with patients at this moment, but I mean, yeah, if anything, please. Yeah, people can reach out to you and to everyone else really.

Alan Law

Thank you man, that’s awesome. I just want to say, you know, I hear just general good bits of advice that maybe other people are sharing as well, and they may not apply and might be good for you, but things like, you know, just on the practical sense of the wedding side. Now, if someone’s looking to postpone, you know, try, maybe one approach is to try and get them to book a midweek or a non peak date the next year. I know that’s not always possible. But you know, if they’re postponing to a peak Saturday next year, that’s almost as good as a cancellation really, for a lot of people they just can’t take these cancellations.

Simon Leclercq

No, no, definitely. I think it’s important to try… you’ve heard this so many times before, but here in Belgium, we have an extremely tight network of professional photographers. I think it’s important to try and stick together and try and share bookings with each other. And I think a lot of work, I think the advantage that we have is that a lot of these weddings are getting postponed and not cancelled. And if someone’s postponing my wedding to a date that I’m not free anymore, but that, I don’t know, Yves or Fille or Sanne, is free, well fine that’s great. And then maybe if they can do it in return for me, then that’s, that’s already half of the battle won, it’s just moving it to another one. So if you stick together and try and figure it out with a couple of people to try and keep the postponing and the moving of the business, in balance for everybody, then that’s already half the battle, really.

Alan Law

That’s great advice. You know, that’s really great advice and I’ve not even really thought about that in that terms of postponement, but getting someone else to do it if you can’t do it and then reciprocating.

Simon Leclercq

Yeah, just trying to reciprocate. Don’t make it too complicated. Stick with a couple of people, try to have a look at your availabilities. Some people will be free on certain dates, some people won’t be, there’s no point trying to reciprocate with two people that have exactly the same booking dates, but I mean, try and reciprocate in small groups and see see how that goes? I think that could work because not many people are cancelling and these people who are hiring us, they want to get married. They fucking love each other and they want to show it.

Alan Law

That’s so true.

Simon Leclercq

Yeah, so I think probably use that as much as you can and use your social network massively.

Alan Law

And people are still booking for next year as well, new weddings as well. And, you know, something that can help with cash flow is that if you’ve taken a very small deposit normally, you know, you can up your deposit now for those weddings next year, it’s your business it’s, you know, everyone’s got different circumstances. So as long as you’re upfront with a client, I think that can help with cash flow.

Simon Leclercq

That’s a tough one really, because the deposits there’s been a lot of discussions about the deposits, do we give it back or not? If they cancel or if they postponed to a date that I can’t?

Alan Law

Oh yeah. No, I was meaning for new, totally new enquiries for next year. Just take a higher deposit than you normally do. Maybe just to help with the cash flow this time.

Simon Leclercq

Oh, yeah. Oh, like that? Oh, yeah, definitely. I think that’s a great idea. Yeah. That you ask maybe half of the price up front as a deposit, and that’s fine. That might be able to help you through this year, going into next year. And I think there will be like the mortgage holidays. There’ll be more things. So I think if you’re a little bit inventive, maybe ask a higher deposit now, then you could kind of find a balance for next year because a lot of things are going to get postponed until next year. So you can kind of compensate that by asking higher deposits now for weddings for next year. Kind of compensates the one from this year that you’re not getting paid. That’s a good one. Yeah. Great one.

Alan Law

Oh, man, but that’s great what you said about banding together there for that reciprocation. I hadn’t even thought of that. So that’s that’s a really good idea.

Simon Leclercq

Any more ideas? Maybe we could maybe we could write something.

Alan Law

Man. Yeah, I don’t know. I think we should maybe do a post in Reportage of different people’s advice as well that would be handy at some point.

Simon Leclercq

Yeah, it could be interesting to kind of try and find inventive ways to to get along with it. And to be honest, with 2021 coming up, there will be I mean, the market will probably be there. Let’s hope this is a dent in the bookings, things are going to get moved but cancelled too much. But I think what’s going on now and everybody and locked down. There is absolutely zero excuse for not having the best website and loads of blog posts locked and loaded.

Alan Law

That’s so true, isn’t it?. And the best SEO? This is the time to lock and load that.

Simon Leclercq

Yeah. Get your Instagram posts ready.

Alan Law

Oh, man. It’s true. Yeah, man, honestly, dude, thank you. Thanks so much for your time here and coming to talk to us about it. I really, really value your time and expertise. Thank you.

Simon Leclercq

It’s my pleasure. It was itching. And I was thinking I mean, do I have to say something? Because we were talking about it between us, well, today really earlier on today. And I mean, I have taken a certain role in the Belgium wedding photographers. It wasn’t much but at a certain point last week, I made a post saying okay, this is my point of view, this is what’s probably going to happen. Brace yourselves for it and do this and this and this from my opinion. So I hope this has helped anybody in any way. I Don’t want to have people panicking. But I mean, this situation is serious, because we just don’t know where it’s gonna go. And just keep safe really.

Alan Law

Oh man, you’ve laid it out how it is, which is just what people… there’s no point, you know, almost like propaganda-ing, saying everything’s gonna be… everything is fine. You know, I think you’ve just got to say it how it is. And I think people will really, really value that and you might say, you know, you might help people or someone who maybe wasn’t taking it so seriously, you might literally have saved lives by talking about it on the podcast. I know, maybe, you know, but you might have you never know.

Simon Leclercq

Who knows, who knows, I hope it makes a difference. And I think it’s important for everybody to remember that everybody can make a difference. It’s funny people come up to me sometimes and ask, oh, you know, you quit being a doctor. And now you’re a photographer. Are you nuts? And I’m like, Yeah, okay, that’s a whole other story.

Alan Law

I’ve always said to you anyway for months I want to do a “normal” podcast interview with you. We’ll save that for another time, because I’m sure you’ll be great at that.

Simon Leclercq

But what I want to say on that, and I was talking, I think, I think it was with, I don’t know, I think it was Richard Howman, is everybody can make a significant impact on their surroundings and the people around them. And being a doctor doesn’t change that at all. Everybody can do something for someone else. And it’s a little thing. It doesn’t have to be much. But I mean, try and think of it like that. You don’t have to be a doctor. You don’t have to be a war photographer, to change the world because you can change the world for someone on a very, very small scale but have a massive impact. So I think it’s important in these times to see how you can pay it forward. That sounds very cliche, but it is very true. Because it’s needed.

Alan Law

I think that’s so lovely. I think that is such a perfect… I so agree and I think that’s so lovely man, it’s beautiful, really, and a lovely way to end the podcast, on that very, very positive outlook. Yeah, I think that’s lovely

Simon Leclercq

Great, that’s awesome. And it kind of neutralises my reputation that I have for being the party photographer at Doc Day and the TiR Christmas Party.

Alan Law

I know you are the best event photographer as well, man, so good.

Simon Leclercq

I am actually very serious. Yeah. Ah Alan, thank you so much for this. I hope this helps someone in some way. And if anybody wants to reach out, please do but please do know that it is quite busy at the same time. But if you can’t hold yourself, don’t worry. Just go for it and let us know.

Alan Law

Oh man, that’s so kind. Thank you for your time and knowledge man and sharing. Honestly, that was brilliant. Thank you.

Simon Leclercq

Ah Alan. Fantastic. Have a great one. Keep safe.

Alan Law

And you dude, and hopefully I’ll see you at some point, hopefully this year.

Simon Leclercq

Yeah, I hope so too. Yeah, if we don’t see each other this year, then something’s off. Yeah.

Alan Law

Thank you, man. See you later.

Simon Leclercq

Yeah, cheers.

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Thanks so much to Simon for his time and expertise today; you can check out his brilliant wedding photography work on his website, or here on his TiR profile.

We have lots more non-coronavirus-related episodes of our Podcast over here too…!

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