The deadly COVID-19, apart from the imminent infecton and death, also brought racism and social stigma. A family of non-resident Indians (NRIs) in Kerala, which tested positive for the novel virus after they came back from overseas has said that it was a “big mistake” on their part to not follow the advice to remain in home quarantine.
The family lives in Italy and had come to their home in Kerala’s Ranni on February 29 on a three-week leave. After landing in India, they attended many functions before testing positive for COVID-19 a week later.
26-year-old Rijo Moncy, who works in Italy, said: “We did a big mistake. It was unintentional and borne out of ignorance. Many cursed us. Some of our family members even said we will not come alive from the hospital."
Talking about the social stigma, he said that his family was dubbed “super spreader” after Pathanamthitta, a hilly district in central Kerala which Ranni is part of, was declared a coronavirus hotspot. Apart from people living in their area, 182 passengers travelled with them from Qatar were also quarantined. Moncy’s 94-year-old grandfather and 88-year-old grandmother were also found to test positive.
“My father literally collapsed when he heard my grandparents were also transmitted. He needed rigorous counselling to come out of the shock and infamy,” said Moncy while talking about their days of isolation in Kottayam medical college hospital. He said that more than the virus, the stigma and guilt hounded them.
“We three were together at the hospital. After initial shock and counselling, my parents took to spirituality reading Bible throughout the day. I was allowed to use my mobile but I stopped checking social media to avoid a barrage of criticism and bad news from other parts of the world which upset me. At one point I thought it is difficult to come out,” Moncy explained.
“At times I used to watch news on my phone. But all channels bombarded worst news on virus and that made me more nervous. The counsellors advised me to watch movie clips and hear songs. I was particular not to show my nervousness or worries before my parents because they were banking on me heavily,” said Rijo, who works in a pharmaceutical firm in Venice
Moncy said that his family was expecting to be ridiculed by the medical staff also but they were proved wrong. “They nursed us back to life. Their mental support was very crucial. Health Minister K K Shailaja called us personally and consoled us a couple of times. Suffering from many medical complications I never expected my grandparents will be back. It is a medical wonder,”
His parents have been living in Italy for the past 20 years and visit their aged parents once in two years. While treating Rijo's grandparents, a nurse also contracted the virus. and visit their aged parents once in two years.
“After the nurse fell ill it aggravated our concerns. But none of the medical fraternity blamed and they treated us like family members. We owe our lives to them. We have seen hospitals in Italy and many other European countries but I feel Kerala’s facilities and care were more than what is offered there,” he said.
He also said that when the family left Italy for India, the situation was not very serious. They were tested before leaving Venice and may have contracted the virus either from Venice airport or on Venice-Doha flight.