Coronavirus pandemic

Quarantined Kerala student never felt mentally isolated

People standing in designated spots in Bhopal, India, yesterday to maintain social distancing as they queued outside a general store during a government-imposed 21-day nationwide lockdown, which has been put in place to fight the coronavirus outbreak
People standing in designated spots in Bhopal, India, yesterday to maintain social distancing as they queued outside a general store during a government-imposed 21-day nationwide lockdown, which has been put in place to fight the coronavirus outbreak.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

The existence of coronavirus in India is a reality and the number of people affected by it will definitely shoot up. But so will those who recover. If one follows the world example, 81 per cent of people infected with the virus will have mild symptoms and recover soon.

In times of pandemic and panic, the story of a young medical student, among the first three cases to test positive in India, gives hope.

The 23-year-old medical student studying in Wuhan, China, the epicentre of the new outbreak, landed in Kerala on Jan 24, and the next day, he reported to the nearest public health centre. "It was my responsibility," he tells me in a phone interview from Allepey, Kerala.

As he displayed no symptoms, he was asked to maintain strict home quarantine till Jan 30. As in most Indian families, his grandmother lived with his parents. Before his arrival itself, she was shifted to another relative's house.

"On Jan 30, I reported to Allepey Medical College and I was shifted to an isolation ward." This happened shortly after the first Kerala case had tested positive-another medical student from Wuhan.

Was he worried when he tested positive for Covid-19?

"Well, yes, I was a bit worried. But being a medical student, I managed to calm myself," he says. "People always have prejudices. I have come from Wuhan and it gets messy, but at the isolation ward, I had no issues. All medical doctors, nurses, medics, we all created a good bond. They took good care of me and provided me with everything, even the food was of my choice," he says.

Boredom in the age of digital connectivity and social connections was never an issue for the young man. He spoke with his friends, chatted on video, read books, scrolled through social media posts, and kept in touch with the world outside.

Staying in isolation can be mentally taxing and exhausting. Did he worry?

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"The department of health was very conscious about my physical and mental health. Health Minister K.K. Shailaja was in touch with me. She's the pillar of post in this crisis, the backbone of our health services in Kerala."

He stayed in quarantine for 28 days. It is a long time to be cut off. But family support can help you sail through, says the young medical student.

"My uncle was outside the isolation ward day and night. He kept in touch, encouraged me, kept me going."

The day he tested negative, he says he cannot express the joy he felt. His parting shot is an important message for every Indian. It is about responsibility.

"I successfully finished my 28-day quarantine. Because of me, no one else got infected, the cases didn't spread. It is our duty, our social and moral responsibility to maintain quarantine. We can certainly beat the pandemic, meanwhile our family, our society will remain safe," he says.

He has no plans to abandon his "second home" - he will return to Wuhan to complete his medical studies.

 

Kerala, at the time of writing, has the second highest number of Covid-19 cases in the country.

But the state's handling of the crisis has come in for high praise. It has tested more people than its neighbouring states have.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 29, 2020, with the headline 'Quarantined Kerala student never felt mentally isolated'. Print Edition | Subscribe