‘I Not Only Fought Covid-19 But Stigma Too’

Piysuh Kumar Singh, 34, who had a lung problem since 2018, his pregnant wife and ageing mother all contracted the virus at the same time! It wasn’t an easy journey for Singh who also felt stigmatised at some of the places

My name Piyush means amrit (nectar), the fluid that makes one immortal. But when I contracted Coronavirus, I had to battle hard for life. It is said that this virus is fatal for people who have pre-existing health conditions. Unfortunately, I checked quite a few boxes on that score. I suffered from a lung problem called pleural effusion in 2018 and had to be in hospital for nearly a month. My already weakened lungs meant my chances of survival were lesser than others.

To make matters worse, my pregnant wife, my ageing mother and my elder brother all contracted the virus at the same time. Imagine! All three categories considered most susceptible to the contagion were under one roof.

I had always taken ample precautions at work and at home, maintaining hygiene and distancing. So I still wonder how I contracted it. On July 18, when I showed the dreaded symptoms, I dialled one helpline number after another to get myself tested at a government facility. Even for getting myself tested I would have to wait for at least three to seven days. At private diagnostic centres, the waiting period was two days.

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I tested Covid positive on July 20. By then, my brother had started complaining of fever and I knew the virus was upon us. I had to get admitted while the rest of my family had to be in home quarantine. The real struggle began thereto!

Government hospitals were overflowing with Covid patients while private hospitals were charging a fortune. When I contacted private hospitals in Kolkata, beds weren’t available. I had high fever, stomach aches, loss of appetite and many other problems (Thankfully, breathing problems were not among them). In that condition I was making the rounds of hospitals.

I felt stigmatised at many of the places. While waiting at one of the hospitals, I wasn’t even allowed to use the washroom. I had expected the facilities at private hospitals to be up to the mark but I was in for a rude shock. I managed to get admitted on July 21 to a satellite hospital of one of the properties of the hospitality industry, thanks to my friends and their contacts. I shudder to think about the fate of families without the right contacts.

During the treatment, I couldn’t even enquire about my family’s wellbeing. Then the breathing trouble began. The doctors had to use an asthmatic pump to help me breathe. The next few days passed by in a blur and my health didn’t pick up even until July 27. Seeing and hearing about people losing their lives around me made things worse.

ALSO READ: ‘Virus Took My Job, But Not My Resolve’

I started giving up the mental fight until a doctor sensed it and counselled me for over an hour. I regained confidence, and my strength began to return. Until then I was at the mercy of the health professionals, who I would say, did a fabulous job. The hospital did a good job, but here is a special shout-out to the doctor who breathed life into me with his counsel. Now I understand why doctors are called gods.

I got to know that my friends were, at great risk to their health, supporting my family handle the isolation. This included my boss as well as other colleagues who were of tremendous help right from the beginning till the end in everything. My family would not have survived this phase without them. I was finally discharged after testing negative on August 8. I am a new man these days.

There have been post-recovery issues. For past week, I have been suffering from severe skin rashes. Doctors have asked me to observe my symptoms as these could be allergy but I am a little scared. My wife is also doing fine and our main focus is now on keeping ourselves mentally fit and emotionally strong.

I must warn other that the various apps which claimed to help us fight against Covid are of little use. I didn’t feel socially stigmatized but my experiences at many a health facility wasn’t pleasant. Social distancing doesn’t mean emotional distancing.

Hot Spot Zone

‘Hot Spot Zone Residents Must Follow Rules Strictly’

Paras Gupta, 27, an IT professional who got stuck in a hot spot zone during a visit to his hometown in Moradabad, says people in a containment area must adhere to the rules set by administration

I live and work in Noida, Delhi-NCR. In mid-March I had come to my hometown Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh for some family work. I have been here since the lockdown was first announced. In a way, I am happy that I get to be with my family at such a crucial time. My house is in Kothiwal Nagar area which has been declared as a hot spot zone.

I must congratulate the local administration due to which we are facing no problem as far as the essential supplies are concerned. There’s no shortage of fruits, vegetables or milk etc. The timing of grocery stores are strictly regulated and the authorities make sure everyone gets the essential items they need.

ALSO READ: ‘Life Is Tough In Hot Spot Zone’

 My family and I are facing no problems at all even though we are living in a high-risk zone. The containment measures are strictly followed, which is good for everybody’s safety. If by not going out, we can save our own lives as well as that of others, we surely can do that much for our society.

Only if more people (in fact everyone) had behaved responsibly, we wouldn’t have reached such a crisis situation, where for the fault of a few an entire locality has to live locked inside their houses. Many people at the early stages of the Coronavirus pandemic were unaware about the precautions to take, but now everyone knows about the dos and the don’ts. Still there are so many people who don’t follow measures like social distancing.

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I am an IT Professional and thus working from home isn’t a problem right now. However, I wish I had a little more time so I could help my mother a bit more with the household chores. In all this, I also take out time to keep myself updated with the news and connect with my friends over phone. The other day I was missing my friends badly and really wanted to meet him, but my father sat me down and talked to me about how little discipline goes a long way.

I think if we can listen to our parents, we can listen to the authorities as well. I feel the centre is doing effective communication and soon we should be able to flatten the curve if enough people listen.

Get Ready For ‘New Normal’ In Post-Corona Times

Wherever you are in this recently-turned-surreal world, you’re either locked down at home; or self-isolated with minimal social contact; or, in the worst case, quarantined somewhere. In India, the entire population has been locked down now since March 24, and people’s movement has been severely restricted. The lucky ones have work that they can do from home; the less fortunate are seeing their incomes dwindle. Elsewhere in the world, such as in Finland where I temporarily reside, the population is so sparse that voluntary self-isolation and social distancing are thought to be enough to curb the spread of the deadly Covid virus that has held the world in suspended animation.

But no matter where you are, the weeks of isolation have probably begun to take their toll and affect your life in more ways than you could have imagined. For those eking out a living at the margins of the economy such as daily wage earners, casual workers, or those employed in the informal sectors (in India that means more than 80% of the workforce), the lockdown is like a devastating blow to their lives, a blow from which they could take months, if not years, to recover. For others, it has changed their lives in lesser but still significant ways.

ALSO READ: Covid-19, Nemesis Of Age Of Reason

Some symptoms of those changes are palpable. When liquor sales were allowed in several Indian locked-down states, queues, some of them albeit socially-distanced, snaked outside liquor shops, and, in some places, stretched for several kilometres. Alcohol-deprived, locked-down denizens just wanted to stock up on booze, which to many is a convenient aid to escape the monotony and depression that sets in when movement is restricted, economic fortunes seem uncertain, and fear and anxiety looms large. The queues outside alcohol shops were probably longer than those outside stores that sold essentials such as food during the lockdown.

Several state governments, which get to set their own excise duties on liquor, raised the rate of taxation, some by as much as 70%, trying to maximise the revenues that can earn in an economy that has sputtered to a halt. These high prices for booze are unlikely to decline even after the Corona virus scare has ended (and no one still knows when that could happen).  

Alcohol consumption could be on the rise during the lockdown but there are less visible changes that are already affecting people’s lives. Staying indoors, often with children and other members of the family, 24X7 for weeks on end can take its toll psychologically. Even in a developed country such as Finland, police admit to getting increased number of complaints of domestic abuse and violence towards women and children. In India, data is as yet unavailable for that sort of behavioural changes but with entire families cooped up in (often) cramped homes; strapped for cash; or for even food and other daily necessities, it could be like ticking time-bombs.

ALSO READ: Langar In The Time Of Coronavirus

With much of the privileged world shifting to school education online during this period, many parents feel the pressure to cope with enforcing discipline on their children to adhere to the new norms of lessons via the internet—not an easy task, particularly when their children are very young and unaccustomed to the process. According to a few family therapists, in many cases, this could lead to abnormal tensions within families and affect family members adversely. Coupled with their own predicament—job cuts; reduced earnings; and the uncertainties about the future—such pressures, not inconceivably, this could lead to serious long-term psychological effects on people and even lead to familial fragmentation.

No one knows yet when the threat of the pandemic will ebb but psychologists and trend forecasters are already talking about a new way of living that may emerge. In many countries, notably in Europe, restrictions are being slowly relaxed. In Finland, restaurants will be allowed to operate in a limited manner (no more than 50 diners at a time) from June1. Schools are being opened for 11 working days from May 14, ostensibly to gauge whether the virus spreads further or not. In India, in some cities, people are being allowed to move around between 7 am and 7 pm in a sort of curfew relaxation. And standalone stores in many cities are now operating normally. Yet, as the threat of the virus refuses to die down, people have grown cautious about social mingling or being out and about in places where there are others.

These are trends that could come to stay. Many business models that are pinned on attracting volumes or numbers of people to make them viable—such as big restaurants; sports events; shopping malls; and so on—could be hit for a long time as customers and consumers decide to err on the side of caution even after the restrictions are gone. In some Chinese cities, after movie theatres were opened partially, they had to be shut down again not because of the renewed spread of the virus but because people just didn’t want to go and watch movies with others as they normally would have.

ALSO READ: How Coronavirus Will Change Our Lives

The flipside of the pandemic-led paralysis of society could be in the form of innovations. Artists and musicians have already begun online virtual concerts on platforms such as YouTube with a pay as you please business model. Restaurants are cutting their overheads and focussing more on home deliveries of their fare as customer feel more comfortable and secure eating at home rather than visiting public places. Air travel is likely to change forever as business and leisure travel shrinks and people and businesses use the Internet to get work done. For many businesses that could lead to substantial reductions in cost.

Many may believe that these will only be a short-term impact of the pandemic. But perhaps not. The after-effects of the pandemic could be longer lasting. The ongoing crisis that the world is experiencing could upend many of the ways in which we live, communicate, and consume. The new normal after the Corona scare is over (whenever that is) would be very different from what we have been used to till now. It could be a not-so-brave new world.


‘Even Women Were Throwing Stones At Medical Team’

Sanjeev Thakur, a 32-year old healthcare professional, braved a mob attack when his team went to quarantine a family in Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh on April 15

I work as a pharmacist at the Community Health Centre, Thakurdwara, in Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh. I was part of the team which made national news after coming under attack from a stone-pelting mob on April 15 when we had gone to quarantine a family. Here is how things unfolded on that day.

Around 12 pm, we were informed by our seniors to go to an area called Nawabpura and put on quarantine a 22-strong extended family, which had lost a 49 year-old male member to Coronavirus. We had heard stories of health workers being mistreated when enforcing quarantine, but it never thought it could happen to us.

A five-member medical team, led by Dr SC Agarwal and comprising two pharmacists and two ambulance staff reached the spot along with 12-14 policemen, including the Nagphani Station House Officer. This is a standard procedure after health workers were targeted elsewhere in the state.

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The affected family requested us to quarantine the females and children at home while the adult would come to the government quarantine facility with us. Since their consent was secured, the SHO left to attend another urgent matter.

Our team had drawn attention and a few people came to enquire about the disease. Dr Agarwal was answering the queries of a few locals and the potentially infected men from the family were entering the ambulance, when suddenly people a few houses apart from the spot started pelting us with stones. They were shouting abuses and threatening us.

A little later, the womenfolk also joined the stone-pelting. I was aghast over the fact that the police and medical staff were being targeted by the same people whom they had come to save. I called the SHO and requested him to rush back immediately to Nawabpura as the mob surrounding us had swelled to about 500 people. We were scared for life.

ALSO READ: Coronavirus, Nemesis Of Age Of Reason

As the stones rained, Dr Agarwal got hit and badly injured. I somehow managed to put him inside the police vehicle. My colleague Atar Pal Singh was also injured and I also suffered a few blows over my back. Thankfully, the SHO and police team returned to the spot.

The ambulance staff were still missing so I requested the police vehicle to take Dr Agarwal immediately while I would locate the rest of my team members. I soon found that the staff had escaped to safety and the men who were to be quarantined had also gone home. I guardedly paced on foot to Zia Hospital, where Dr Agarwal had been taken.

Meanwhile, the news of attack on our team spread like fire. There was a deluge of calls on my phone from family, friends and relatives. In my seven years of sarkari duty, this was the toughest day I had ever seen. The incident had left me shaken.

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At our Centre, the Chief Medical Officer took cognizance of the matter and sent another medical team to Nawabpura again to bring the suspects to the quarantine facility. This time a Rapid Action Force (RAF) team accompanied them. This time things went smoothly.

I merely wish to tell people that they must not panic in such times and have faith in the medical staff. We are all in the fight against coronavirus together. Coronavirus is as new for the medical fraternity as it is for the common man. Do not listen to rumours. Trust your government for information and resolve.

‘You Must Hold Your Nerve During Home Quarantine’

Pooja Barthakur, 36, an HR professional, had little clue her foreign sojourn will end up with home quarantine. Yet, she is happy to have escaped Covid-19

Thank God, my doctor husband (a radiologist and practicing psychiatrist) and I didn’t contract coronavirus, despite travelling to foreign countries during the thick of Coronavirus scare. But let me start from the beginning.

We left India on February 27 for a tourist trip to three European countries, namely Croatia, Hungary and Austria. Little did we know then what was in store for us. This trip was planned long ago and we weren’t in a position to cancel it. Moreover, since no travel advisories were in place, we didn’t know the scale of the pandemic spread.

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Our flight was via Qatar and we saw no additional checks in place at all. I spent nearly a week in Zagreb (Croatia) and enjoyed the tourist attractions but saw no signs of the authorities enforcing social distancing or any other precaution. Thankfully, we had chosen to stay at an Airbnb in all the places we travelled to, with very less people around. In hindsight, probably, our travel lifestyle saved our lives.

Pooja Barthakur

We travelled next to Hungary and found no precautionary enforcements in place. We all consider Europeans to be more woke and aware when it came to health issues or infections, so we too were at ease. Only people who had travelled from China or Italy were being questioned about their travel and medical histories. The rest of us were free. No one wore a mask, nobody followed distancing.

It was only when we reached Vienna (Austria) on March 11, the worrying signs begun to rise. On the 3rd day of our trip, we started feeling shaky. Austria had reported 900 cases on March 14. My husband advised not to panic. I de-stressed myself by cooking.

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On March 15, when we reached Vienna airport, the city had erected strict check points. However, there were no checks at all at the airport, the place where there should have been the most stringent checks. The Air India flight we boarded was half-full and I was very, very surprised to see just how aware and empathetic the crew were. They gave us multiple forms to fill, which required our travel and medical histories.

In a matter of 7.5 hours of travel, our world had turned upside down. At New Delhi airport, the process was smooth. There were doctors and support staff asking us the right questions, checking out temperatures etc. The airport was crowded though, just what it shouldn’t have been.

At Kochi airport, we were again thoroughly checked. We were advised to go on home-quarantine, which we dutifully did. Since we live in the medical campus, there were enough support. The local police checked twice whether we were following the rules of home-quarantine or not. Before leaving for Europe we had stocked our pantry well and lived easily for a few days. Then we restocked. The most important lesson I learnt in this period was the importance of calmness. I have been calm ever since I realized we hadn’t contracted the virus.

ALSO READ: ‘Locked Inside, We Are Going Nuts’

As I saw scores of migrant labourers panicking, I wished I could soothe them. Fear is a bigger killer than coronavirus. I have been calming people who reach out to me and I would request people to not give in to fake news or quackery. There’s no treatment available for coronavirus, but we can definitely keep ourselves through social distancing and keeping calm.

Nirala Greenshire

‘Locked Inside For A Week, We Are Going Nuts’

After two positive cases of Covid-19 were found in his housing society, Nirala Greenshire, Greater Noida, Rupesh Kumar along with 1,000 residents have been living in quarantine since March 22

On the evening of March 22, two of the residents in our society were tested positive of Covid-19. One of them had returned from Denmark a few days back and was staying with his family. He and his mother were tested positive and since then all seven of his family members were put into home quarantine.

All senior officials from city administration, police and health department are camping the society since then. And realizing that the two patients must have come into contact with other residents too, the entire society has been put under a lockdown.

We have been asked to stay indoors and avoid physical contact with anyone. This is nothing short of being quarantine for us. Since then, scores of Aganwadi workers have stormed into the apartments wearing masks and carrying sanitizers and thermometers. Those were the only outside contact with us since last two days. We are anxiously listening to the announcement from our balconies and we can do nothing at all.

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The administration said they will sanitize the entire apartment blocks and test each and every suspect to confirm any chances of community spread of Coronavirus pandemic. Our rations are drying, milk is not available, and we are missing simple things like our morning cuppa. Private security guards of the society are helping us with groceries and other daily needs but it’s too little but most of them time half of the stuff we order does not reach us due to short supply.

There are over 1,000 residents in this society and very few security guards so it’s not possible for them to meet everyone’s demand. We are surviving on bare minimum. Since no maids are allowed, we have to clean our flats on our own, cook and wash dishes. We are wearing masks throughout the day till we go to bed. It’s a horrible thing to be put in quarantine like this.

ALSO READ: How Finland Is Coping With Covid-19

We know the gravity of the situation and we are cooperating with the administration but it just happened all too suddenly and we were not ready for this. Since no outsider can enter the society, the milkmen are also not allowed. Those who have small children are totally dependent on security guards who are making sorties on their two wheelers and cycles to buy for those in need. It’s like we are living a bad dream. We don’t know who is contaminated. The fear of catching the disease has made us behave strangely.

The District Magistrate and the Commissioner of Police have asked us to be patient. What else can we do? We are hoping to get out of this situation soon. People are getting anxious. Some residents had verbal spat with cops when they went down without permission. We can only speak to the officers from our balconies.

We have requested the administration to complete the process as soon as possible but we know with such large number of people living in such small area, it’s hard for them too. This incident gives us a lesson to be prepared.

LokMarg team spoke to Rupesh Kumar from his balcony at a distance

‘Life In Quarantine Aboard An Egyptian Ship Was Awful’

Vanita Rengaraj, 64, was among 17 Indians who were stuck on a Cruise on the Nile when one of the passengers was diagnosed with Coronavirus. Rengaraj recalls her ordeal and the journey return home

I have taught History for 27 years at the NGM College in Pollachi, Coimbatore and it is my love for History that brought me to a close brush with coronavirus. Our 17-member group of senior citizens had left for Egypt on February 29 for a nearly week-long trip, with three nights booked on a cruise ship on the Nile called A Sara.

Things were fine and we were able to enjoy the pyramids, the dams, the temples and even our first day (March 4) on the ship. The following day, chaos and confusion took hold and everyone on the ship was scared because a person on the ship had tested positive of Covid-19, and the tally of affected cases kept increasing and reached 30 (total number of passengers on the ship was 120).

Our ship was in Luxor and by then other parts of Egypt had also started reporting Coronavirus cases. On March 6, Egyptian health officials including 10 doctors made their way to our ship. With my medical history of having various heart conditions (including pacemaker), hypertension, breathing problems, diabetes and thyroid, I was worried I would not have strong immunity and would be infected.

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By March 7 all the tests had been done and only one Indian, a male engineer from Chennai, was seen as a suspect while all other in our lot tested negative for Coronavirus. But our ordeal didn’t end there. The kitchen on the ship had closed down; the dining hall was out of bound; and we were asked not to interact with each other. Due to age many of us were already taking in a lot of medicines and lack of good food (we were given only grilled chicken and rice) we were worried our immunity could go down even further. We were desperate to get out of the ship.

Things began to move only when the Egyptian media took up our case. It is then that my daughter Saranya sprang into action and contacted the Indian media, as well as the Indian and Egyptian embassies. We were moved from Luxor to the military hospital in Alexandria, nearly 500 miles away. From March 7 to March 12 we kept getting more and more worried about our fate. We had tested negative for coronavirus but were unable to leave for India. We were being asked to be in quarantine for 14 days. However, when we had already tested negative there was no point being quarantined in a country where the disease was spreading fast. Meanwhile, my daughter was making frantic calls to all embassies concerned.

Finally a solution was reached after the French and Indian government put pressure on Egyptian authorities. We were allowed to leave Alexandria. I took a flight from Luxor to Cairo, Cairo to Mumbai, and Mumbai to Hyderabad and finally from Hyderabad to Coimbatore and from there I came home to Pollachi via road. All in the span of one single day! Can you imagine how taxing four flights plus travelling by road would have been for a senior citizen in a single day?

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I am thankful to the Indian embassy officials in Egypt who were very cooperative and calmed our fears. They came with us till the airport. I am also thankful to the flight crew who were attentive to even the smallest discomfort. We were crying while returning home. We would finally be able to see family and friends again. We finally reached India on the night of March 12.

I am still practicing social distance in my home in Pollachi and friends are scared to come and meet me though my husband and I have tested negative for coronavirus. However, I don’t mind. People should better be safe than be sorry. As of now, my work with the various NGOs and the schools for the underprivileged that I run in Tamil Nadu, have come to a halt.

I read about how many Indians are trapped in Italy and would request governments across the world to let those people who have tested negative go back home. We need the support of our families as well as need to support our families in times like these. Also, from now on I have decided to take travel advisories seriously. It is okay to lose money but we should always take care of our health first and foremost.