“We are nowhere even close to what happened in Italy, but take social distancing seriously”

Kavya Sanghvi managed to get out of Italy in the nick of time. He is touched he is getting calls from the state, central government health authorities who are checking on him on a regular basis

Swati Subhedar
| Updated: March 23rd, 2020

Everything was fine and I was thoroughly enjoying my course. It was around mid-February that I started hearing a bit about Coronavirus in China. But all of a sudden, on February 22, we heard that a few people had tested positive for Coronavirus in a town close to Milan. The very next day, which was a Sunday, we got a mail from the university that in our region, Lombardy, all universities would be shut, but classes will continue online.

Initially, it seemed all fine and everyone was under the impression that it shall pass. After all, “this is just some flu”. In the following couple of days, I could see from my home window that the roads were a bit empty; I didn’t notice any dramatic changes. But, within no time, the number of cases started going up and traffic started reducing. At that point in time, we had not heard about any cases in Milan, so, in the evenings, people were still chilling, going out and enjoying their lives. As for me, February 23 was the last day when I had stepped out to buy some groceries and stock them up, maybe for the next week or so. 

As a student, I definitely felt that the universities were prompt enough in taking the decision to shut down and arrange online classes for us. But, at the same time, other services were functioning normally. I wasn’t stepping out of the house much and taking whatever precautions possible since I could see the cases rising rapidly in Italy, especially in the towns around Milan. The only time I stepped out of the house was every four days to buy milk and veggies, since it was difficult to stock up on such food items for long.

It had been more than a week since I was locked inside my house, finishing assignments given by university by coordinating over Skype, and watching series or movies. I am a very social person and now it was getting really boring to be locked inside my house. It was getting increasingly difficult to not talk to people in person. But there was a silver lining that I was looking forward to. In a week’s time, on March 8, as part of my course, my classmates and I were going to travel to Antwerp, Belgium, for two weeks to attend a workshop. I was very excited and, at the same time, happy that I would be out of Milan and safe in Belgium. But, the rising cases in Italy over the next three days led to that workshop getting cancelled and it was announced that it would be conducted online. It was really disappointing, but, at the same time, I could understand the seriousness of the situation as now the cases were rising everywhere in the world. 

Though I was attending the workshop online, it wasn’t engaging. I could feel the inactivity in my body. Outside, the situation was quite grave. The supermarkets were empty. Every other day, my classmates from India used to call and discuss if we should go back to India. But I felt I was safe inside and the idea of going to the airport and risk getting infected wasn’t very appealing.

I spoke to a few of my other classmates from Italy and other countries. Though everyone was a little tensed because of the rising number of cases, the general perception was that it won’t affect us, the younger people. On March 7, on a Saturday evening, a few of us were planning to meet the next day during daytime at a park (open space, to be safe) and catch some sun, as the weather had been pleasantly good. Little did we know that that very night we will get the news of Milan going in lockdown from March 8 until at least April 3. 

Now I was seriously contemplating whether I should go back to India and wanted to discuss it with my father. But it was 11 in the night (3 AM in India) so, I decided to postpone that call until morning. But next morning, before I woke up, there was a message from my father who urged me to leave as it was all over the news that Milan was going in a lockdown. I wasn’t even sure if I would be allowed to leave. I tried contacting the Indian Consulate in Milan and the Indian embassy in Rome, but couldn’t get through as it was a Sunday.

I started looking up for flights from Milan to New Delhi and tried contacting particular airlines and the airport authority in Milan, but couldn’t get through anyone. I was sure if I could leave Milan, so there was no point in buying a ticket. I just decided to dump some clothes in my bag, reach the airport and check if I could leave. When I reached the airport, it was deserted so my apprehensions grew. I spoke to the airport authorities who told me that international flights were still running, so I quickly bought a ticket. But within the next half an hour, that flight, and many other flights, got cancelled. I was told that since there were very few people in that flight, they had to cancel it. Luckily, the airport authorities put me in another flight, which was leaving later that evening, and I came back to New Delhi, India on March 9.

In New Delhi, it was all very sorted. The immigration forms were handed out to the passengers at the airplane exit gate. We needed to provide details like if we had any flu-like symptoms and elaborate on our one-month travel history. They checked our temperature and since I was coming from Italy, my immigration happened at a separate counter. I was expecting to spend a lot of time at the airport considering the situation but the airport was quite empty and all these processes happened very quickly. I was back home.

I have been in self-quarantine at my home from March 9. I am isolating myself as much as I can from my family. As a precaution, since I have come from Italy, even my family — father, mother and brother — have been in self-quarantine since then. Every other day, I am getting calls from the Central and the state government health authorities, asking if I am doing fine.

Today is the last day of my self quarantine; the advised 14-days period ends. But, considering the situation in India now, I am going to continue to self- quarantine myself and I hope others do this too. I am deeply concerned about the situation in Italy as the cases are rising rapidly. In India, we are nowhere even close to that situation. But let’s not be complacent about it. Let’s support all those who are working tirelessly to prevent the spread of Coronavirus in our country. I salute the government that it has taken proactive steps to deal with the situation. I request every one to take social distancing very seriously.

Kavya Sanghvi is pursuing his masters in Milan and has been living there since October 2019.