Returned from Iran, where the toll touched 724, Muteeb Nazir, who was in the second phase of evacuation operation conducted by the Indian government there, the 21-year-old shared his experience with IANS and narrated his tale of horror as COVID-19 suddenly peaked in the Middle East country and deaths were reported in hundreds.
The fourth year student of Medicine in Tehran University, Nazir, who has tested negative, said: “I was preparing for my exams, due on February 23, when I first heard about the novel coronavirus, spreading in Iran.”
“When they closed all institutions, including academic and religious, I realised that the pathogen had entered Iran and there was something very serious about it, because the Iranian government dont take such measures generally,” said Nazir, who had been in Iran for three and a half years.
A Jammu and Kashmir resident, Nazir told IANS how he was touched by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar's gesture when the Minister personally met his parents at his Srinagar home in order to assure them about his safety.
“Indian government has done a fantastic job throughout the evacuation operation, more than my expectations. I especially want to thank External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar who specially went to Srinagar and met my parents in the time of distress. He assured them about my return. I am touched by his gesture,” said he.
Nazir also said that his parents wanted to come to be with him in Iran but their flight tickets were cancelled at the last moment. “My tickets were also cancelled which I booked for my return prior to the evacuation operation.
“Every minute was uncertain about my return as situations were constantly changing with new travel advisories coming out on a daily basis and borders closures ordered.”
Recalling the time when his result of diagnosis for COVID-19 infection was to be disclosed by the Indian officials, Nazir told IANS: “My return to India depended on the diagnosis. I got a call from the Indian embassy on Friday. The official asked me to reach the airport to catch the special flight on Saturday (March 14) for India.
“They had divided all evacuees in groups, pilgrims were their first priority because they were mostly old and prone-to infection. One had to test negative for COVID-19 to return to India.
“When the official told me that two people had tested positive for the infection in the group of 137 students, I thought he would call out for my name in those two. But fortunately I tested negative therefore I qualified for return.”
When IANS asked if he was skeptical about his return, Nazir said: “I was sure I will be evacuated sooner or later. I have seen that our Prime Minister is serious about the evacuation of Indians, stuck in COVID-hit countries.
“Yesterday PM Modi organised video conferencing with SAARC countries to battle coronavirus. His leadership is commendable.”
He also added: “Initially when our group of students, sent SOSs at various social media platforms to the MEA, there was a delay in response. But finally they have brought us back. It was not easy for India to evacuate large number of Indians from coronavirus affected countries, I understand that.
“But our government did it successfully in such short span of time. I did not panic and kept focusing on two things — I could be safe if I maintained personal hygiene and the mortality rate in this disease is 2 per cent. That's what kept me calm and composed during my wait for the evacuation process.”
Nazir is housed at the army quarantine facility in Jaisalmer. Talking about the facility at the army quarantine centre, he said “all facilities are upto the mark here. The doctors visit and check up to all evacuees regularly. Food is good and hygiene is maintained here.”
He said he would go home straight after completing the isolation period. “I will fly home after 14 days, I have not been there for more than a year. After that, I will go back for completion of my studies in Iran when the situation is under control,” said the Iranian evacuees.
(Sfoorti Mishra can be contacted on [email protected])