“In 2021, I want to fly back to my campus in Wuhan in China and attend classes,” says Alam Al Muhammed over the phone from his home in Kayamkulam, Kerala. “Online classes cannot make up for real interaction,” adds the 23-year-old medical student who was the country’s second Covid-19 case.
Eleven months ago, as Wuhan became the epicentre of the outbreak, with 800 cases, and the city shut down, Alam and his classmates, all medical students, had rushed out to catch the last train to Kunming before flying to India.
At the time, recalls Alam, the disease didn’t even have the name Covid-19.
Back home in Kerala, he tested positive for Covid-19. “But I tested negative soon and then became the first patient to recover from the infection,” he points out.
However, despite being among the first in the country to get infected, “I never faced any social boycott or stigma”, says Alam. “Nobody got the infection from me, and so no one accused me of bringing the virus from China. Also, being a medical student, I strictly followed all protocols right from the beginning. I have been wearing a mask since January 24, the day I landed in Kochi. In India, masks became mandatory at least two months after that,” says the fourth year MBBS student.
Later, as the case tally climbed up in Kerala and the country, crossing the one crore mark, “locals began to refer to me as a role model for following Covid-19 guideline,” he smiles.
Now, Alam’s days are packed with online classes that begin at 5.30 am. “There are three sessions during the day of two-and-a-half hours each. The online classes began in June, even as the pandemic peaked in China,” says Alam, whose parents are state government employees.
The 23-year-old’s MBBS batch at Wuhan University had 63 students, of which 48 were from India. The group returned to India on January 23, and Alam’s classmate, who sat next to him on the flight from Kunming to Kolkata, was India’s first Covid-19 case. Only three medical students from Wuhan, including Alam, got infected. “We were treated as VIP at the hospital,” says Alam.
As he waits to return to Wuhan, Alam says he misses interacting with his classmates. “Nobody has returned to Wuhan yet. While the city has opened up, students are not back to college. I am in touch with my friends through social media and an online interactive app for classes. Attendance is marked regularly and nobody skips class,” he says.
As he steps into a new year, Alam says all he wants is “normalcy to return” to his life. “The pre-Covid days seem like a dream now… Every experience is a new lesson. I battled the virus when very little was known about its nature and fatality. My days in isolation helped me become a strong person,” he says.