Thiruvananthapuram: CPI's young MLA Muhammed Muhassin P has found himself in a helpless situation.
His wife Shafaq Kasim, a research scholar at Camerino University in eastern Italy, is quarantined in a small room in Camerino. She is prohibited from stepping outside, and there is no way she can reach Rome's Fiumicino airport some five hours away.
Fact is, attempting such a journey could be far more dangerous because there are highly infected towns and cities along the way. Kasim will also have to take three buses to reach the airport in Rome.
All of Muhassin's efforts to somehow get his wife and many Malayalis stranded in Italy back to India failed. And now it is too late.
“I had contacted the Indian Embassy in Rome before things got this bad pestering them to take steps to fly Indians in Italy back to India immediately,” Muhassin told Onmanorama. “They kept telling me they would do it if there are enough numbers and now see what has happened,” Muhassin said.
In Italy, the virus is spreading at breakneck speed. In the last few days, 100-120 deaths are reported every day. Italy also the highest COVID-19 deaths in a single day, 163 on March 11. The total number of deaths as of now in the country is 827.
The situation is so scary that the Indian Embassy in Italy has closed down; the Indian consulate in Milan had shut shop even earlier. Indians in Italy now have no one to turn to.
On Thursday, authorities in Camerino, where Muhassin's wife Shafaq is doing research, had asked all residents to compulsorily shut themselves in. “No one is supposed to be outdoors. They have tightened restrictions,” Muhassin said. Camerino University has also closed down.
“My wife is now holed up in a room she shares with two other female research scholars. The room is more like a flat and has a kitchen. One of her roommates is a Malayali and she had gone to live with her husband in another part of Italy before the virus spread turned vicious. The other roommate is an Italian,” Muhassin said.
He said his wife had stocked up on a month's ration. “She can perhaps hold on for a month, not more than that. The stricture to keep indoors, which the Camerino residents and students were served today (March 12), I fear can induce some panic,” the worried husband said. The Pattambi MLA is constantly in touch with his wife through video calls.
Muhassin takes heart in the fact that there is just one COVID-19 positive case in the areas around the University. “But the virus has spread badly in places just an hour's drive from the university,” Muhassin said.
He said his wife was at least safe in her room. “But the plight of many daily wagers who decided to return looks miserable,” Muhassin said.
Over 50 Indians are said to be stranded in the Rome airport for over three days, their stock of food and water almost emptied. “They have been asked to get back to their lodgings but many of them had vacated their places and going back is not an option,” Muhassin said.
The Indian Government had issued an advisory saying only those with a COVID-19 negative certificate, even if they are Indians, would be allowed into the country. Airlines have, therefore, refused to fly them fearing they would not be allowed to land in India.
The Kerala Assembly passed a resolution on Thursday urging the Centre to withdraw the advisory issued by the Director General of Civil Aviation. “Their condition is so bad that P J Joseph (Kerala Congress (M) leader) sitting here had to use his contacts in Italy to get these stranded passengers some bottles of drinking water,” P C George MLA said.
Muhassin said hospitals in Italy did not have adequate testing facilities. Given that it is struggling to contain the spread, Italy has also said that they were not in a position to conduct tests on those without symptoms. None of the Indians stranded in Rome reportedly have any symptoms.
With no means to get themselves tested, they have no choice but to languish inside the airport. To get over the problem, a team of health officials are expected to reach Italy on Thursday.
Muhassin attributed the high fatality in Italy to lack of preparedness. “Milan and Rome are places frequented by Chinese tourists. Even then Italy did not take any precautions. And when they took action, it was initially restricted to the northern areas. Now, it looks like things have gone out of control,” Muhassin said.
He said Italy was also a place where the aged population was high. “A substantial number of the dead in Italy are the old and the ill,” he said.