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Thursday, April 15, 2021

For Mumbai’s first Covid couple, vaccine brings hope after a year in isolation

Afraid of being reinfected, the elderly couple have remained confined to their apartment for the entire time, except for short trips to the bank and a grocery shop nearby.

Written by Tabassum Barnagarwala | Mumbai |
March 4, 2021 10:10:26 pm
Vaccine kills 2Two elderly persons, with a medical history of cardiac ailments, died earlier this week after they were administered Covishield, a Covid-19 vaccine manufactured by Serum Institute of India (Representational)

The last time Vithal Sonawane and wife Lata Sonawane left their Andheri flat together was on March 10, 2020, to go to Kasturba, the city’s first infectious disease hospital. The next day they were Mumbai’s first confirmed Covid-19 positive cases. After a 14-day isolation period, they took an ambulance home and were unprepared for what they saw — empty roads, shut markets, and their masked neighbourhood. In the year since, Covid-19 has changed their lives completely.

Afraid of being reinfected, the elderly couple have remained confined to their apartment for the entire time, except for short trips to the bank and a grocery shop nearby. They also stopped their maid domestic help from coming in. They have rare visits by friends and relatives. They do not step out even for a walk in the nearby park, which was a habit with them before the pandemic struck. Both have diabetes; Vithal is a heart patient with history of angioplasty and Lata has arthritis.

With the start of the second phase of vaccination, in which senior citizens and people with co-morbidities are being immunised, the Sonawanes are eager to get their shot– this, they believe, is their only chance to break free from the fear of reinfection that has bound them indoors. The 70-year-olds plan to get their vaccine on different days, so that in case of an adverse reaction one can look after other.

The couple declined a meeting for this report, insisting the threat of infection was high.

“We have sacrificed so much this past year,” Lata says. “Once we get the vaccine, we will meet people, normal life will resume. We want to travel the world while we still have energy,” Vithal says.

Their daughter lives in the USA and son in Singapore. The entire family last met on the Dubai trip in February 2020.

Over the past year, a few relatives have dropped by. Vithal says he misses the evening walk in parks, and daily chats with society members. “Our children keep telling us to avoid going out. Once a month I go to the bank to withdraw cash and once a fortnight to buy vegetables. The grocery shop owner downstairs is kind, he stocks extra things just to deliver to us.”

The couple would go on a foreign trip every year. It was during one such trip with a group of 40 Indian tourists to Dubai last February that they were infected with Covid-19. They returned on March 1, 2020. Nine days later, a Pune couple, who were part of the tour, tested positive. Contact tracing led to families in Karnataka, Yavatmal, Nagpur, and Mumbai.

The Sonawanes had no symptoms, but tests found a high viral load in them. In the next 14 days of isolation at Kasturba, the couple saw a fellow Covid-19 patient from Ghatkopar die, and another young man became critical and had to be put on a ventilator. Lata developed stomach infection due to antibiotics. The two detested using the government hospital washroom. Amid this gloom, one day they were surprised to receive fruits from a local BMC medical officer in hospital.

“Everyone spoke of stigma due to Covid-19, we were lucky we experienced no such thing,” Vithal says. The lift in their building was being repaired. After being discharged, four residents volunteered to carry Lata on a chair to their second-floor apartment. “She was not able to walk. Society members would cook food and place it at our door every day,” he says.

Their life since then is a cycle of television shows and household chores. The two get up around 8.30 am. Vithal helps his wife in the kitchen. He also sweeps and mops the floor and she does the dusting. After lunch the two switch on the TV. “We would have gone mad if there was no TV,” Vithal says. In between, relatives and their children call to check on them.

After a short nap, it’s time for their evening tea and prep for the dinner, with Marathi soaps playing in the background. The TV is on until 11 pm.

Asked what they plan to do once they get vaccinated, Sonawane says he will resume his walk in the park, call back the help, and Lata will resume going downstairs for groceries. The foreign trips will have to wait until the pandemic recedes.

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