‘Hounded by social stigma’: Kerala family dubbed ‘super spreader’ on Covid-19 fight
The family has been living in Italy for the past 20 years, and visit their hometown in Kerala once every two years.
A family of non-resident Indians (NRIs) in Kerala, which contracted coronavirus disease Covid-19, has said that it was a “big mistake” on their part to not follow the advice to remain in home quarantine.
The family, who lives in Italy, came to their home in Kerala’s Ranni on February 29 on a three-week leave and attended many functions before testing positive for Covid-19 a week later.
“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,” said 26-year-old Rijo Moncy, who works in Italy.
They were dubbed “super spreader” after Pathanamthitta, a hilly district in central Kerala which Ranni is part of, was declared a Covid-19 hotspot. One hundred eighty two passengers who travelled with them from Qatar were also quarantined and Moncy’s 94-year-old grandfather and 88-year-old grandmother tested 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, narrating the initial days of isolation in Kottayam medical college hospital. More than the virus, the stigma and guilt hounded them.
They were vilified and were targeted by trolls online, who wanted them to be flogged publicly. “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. The family spent 25 days of isolation at the hospital.
“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,” he said, adding that he enjoyed comic strips most.
Moncy said the family thought it will face a vindictive treatment at the hospital too, but they were mistaken.
He gave full credit to the medical team of the Kottayam medical college hospital and termed it as one of the best medical care facilities in the world. “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,” said Rijo, who works in a pharmaceutical firm in Venice. His parents have been living in Italy for the last 20 years and visit their aged parents once in two years.
While treating Moncy’s grandparents, one of the nurses of the medical college hospital - Reshma Mohandas - turned positive. “They behaved like little children. We also considered them like that only. Since both of them had some hearing problem I had to be very close,” Mohandas said, adding that she was just doing her duty.
“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, adding that his family members turned emotional while leaving the hospital.
Moncy said when they left Italy in end of February, the situation was not that serious and they got tested before taking flight in Venice. He feels they might have contracted the virus either from Venice airport or on Venice-Doha flight.
“The situation in Italy is really serious now. My parents are Italian citizens. We will to go back once things are settled. We are really grateful to our country and the state,” said Moncy.