Coronavirus outbreak: Continents apart, elderly couple, their son come to terms with pandemic

Updated: 13 March, 2020 07:32 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon | Mumbai

With the military on the streets of Milan, Kevin Rebello is surviving amid a lockdown; while his parents back in Naigaon have no choice but to spend their days glued to the TV and pray for their son

Gladys, 70, and Frank Rebello, 78, watch international news in their Naigaon home. Pic courtesy/ Gladys and Frank Rebello
Gladys, 70, and Frank Rebello, 78, watch international news in their Naigaon home. Pic courtesy/ Gladys and Frank Rebello

An elderly couple in Naigaon is spending its days glued to the TV, monitoring the fallout of the Coronavirus pandemic in Italy as their 46-year-old son lives amid a nationwide lockdown in Milan.

"I hope Kevin is fine. He speaks to us over the phone but doesn't mention the lockdown. This worries us. We do not know if he is able to get food and medicines. Frank and I spend hours watching international news. It is the only source to know the conditions in Italy," said 70-year-old Gladys Rebello.

"He told us once that he had to wait for hours in a queue at the supermarket. People are allowed to visit there once a week, where they must maintain distance between each other. The entry too is restricted to a handful of people at a time," said Gladys, whose husband is 78 years old. She last spoke to Kevin two days ago.

Kevin visited India for five weeks towards the end of 2019. As such, he can't return so soon.

"We are praying for his safety and wellbeing there, waiting for his phone calls. At times, when the bell doesn't ring, we get worried," Gladys added.

The Air India announced a temporary suspension of flights to Rome and Milan in Italy and to Seoul in South Korea until March 25. On Thursday, a special Air India flight arrived at Delhi from Milan, with 83 passengers, including Indians and foreigners, who were taken to a special quarantine hospital in New Delhi.

'The world is on its knees'

Statistics till Thursday show that out of the 12,462 COVID-19 cases reported in Italy, 827 have resulted in death. mid-day reached out to Kevin, who has been working from home in Milan. According to him, the military has been called in to enforce the lockdown till April 3.

To ensure that the lockdown is observed properly, military has been given the power to fine anyone violating the order by imposing a fine of 260 euros (over R20,000) or three months imprisonment. For those who argue with security forces, imprisonment could last up to a year.

"Just two days ago, almost 50 people in southern Italy, who had participated in a family funeral, were fined," said Kevin. "It is so surreal to see that an entire country like Italy, with a population of over 60 million, can be locked down. Daily life has drastically changed, no one is spared irrespective of their race or colour. The virus has spread so fast and so quick, it has got the entire world on its knees," he said.

After Milan was placed in quarantine on March 7, people began fleeing to their hometowns towards southern Italy. This created chaos as the travellers could spread COVID-19 further.

"People did not understand the gravity of the situation as they have never dealt with this before. So the government decided to shut down the entire country to avoid further movement, travel and prevent people from socialising. I hope the world learns from our experiences and acts accordingly. Otherwise, God save us all," Kevin said.

Kevin Rebello in Milan. PIC COURTESY: KEVIN REBELLOKevin Rebello in Milan. Pic courtesy/ Kevin Rebello

Provisions finish fast

According to Kevin, provisions are available at supermarkets, but all stock, especially of drinking water, finish quickly. "I have not been able to get sufficient water, but thankfully, tap water in Milan is potable. We boil and consume it. We don't purchase anything unnecessary. But some people's choices are out of this world, they stock up on beer and booze. It is funny and sad to see people do such things in such difficult times," Kevin said. People venturing out to buy provision are asked for residence proof.

Similarly, only one person is allowed inside pharmacies. Hand sanitisers and masks were exhausted three weeks ago and people are religiously washing hands and maintaining hygiene. "Luckily I have one mask, which a dentist friend gave me," Kevin said.

Emphasising on the need for cleanliness, Kevin said, "I have never cleaned my house this much. More the cleanliness, the better. We cannot go to the doctor, hospitals or emergency rooms. If we feel unwell, a team of medics is sent for a check-up. A Coronavirus patient is taken immediately to the nearest hospital. While the government is taking precautions, I feel people are taking things lightly," he said.

Huge economic impact

The month-long impact is likely to lead to small establishments shutting shop and many losing their jobs. "A few people I know have lost jobs. There have been a few suicides recently. Recovery is not going to be easy. Now is the time to sacrifice and stay strong," said Kevin, who works two jobs — as a wellness consultant and as a part-time tour coordinator/guide.

Consulate releases guidelines

The Indian Consulate and Embassy in Italy has uploaded guidelines on its Facebook page to help Indians there as consular services have been disrupted. Indian nationals have also been given a 24x7 helpline in case of emergencies. "An Indian friend's daughter was studying fashion in Milan. Her university was told to stop classes until further notice. Most Indian students returned to India. I pray all this ends soon and things return to normal," Kevin said.

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First Published: 13 March, 2020 06:55 IST

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