A family photo of Dubai mum Yogita Shanker, 51, with her husband, 53, and son Tanishk, 22
A family photo of Dubai mum Yogita Shanker, 51, with her husband, 53, and son Tanishk, 22 Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai expatriate Yogita Shanker was in tears when she got the call from Dubai Health Authority (DHA) confirming that her 22-year-old son, Tanishk, had tested positive for COVID-19. He had just returned to Dubai from the US, but, had already self-quarantined and made sure he wouldn’t infect his family. The 51-year-old told Gulf News, how her son and her family together broke the chain.

Shanker’s son landed in Dubai on March 16, she explained: “My son, Tanishk Shanker is a Senior at Princeton University in NJ, USA. When the University closed down, he wanted to come home but kept saying what if he gets infected during the long flight, or at the airport, and in turn infects us. Who knew his words were prophetic. So, straight after landing Tanishk decided to go under a self-imposed quarantine, even though at that time it had not been announced as compulsory. Before he arrived home, he instructed us to leave many drinking water bottles, cleaning items like disinfectant sprays, sanitizers, a broom, a duster, gloves, masks, some snacks and a yoga mat inside his room. He said he would not come out of his room at all. He has an ensuite bathroom so he was self-sufficient. We, his parents are middle aged – on the wrong side of 50, so he stopped us from coming to the airport to pick him up. He went straight to his room as soon as he arrived. He was literally on his own, confined in his closed room from that point. We texted emoji hugs to him when he reached home.”

"He stopped us from coming to the airport to pick him up. We texted emoji hugs to him when he reached home."

- Yogita Shanker

She added that the family, basically didn’t get to see him at all after he returned. Shanker said: “He made sure not to touch anything. We all thought it was just precautionary but he was being very sensible. On Tanishk’s insistence, we all followed the strictest of measures. We would give him food in disposables, leave them outside his room and he would take it away. He was cleaning his own room, bagging his garbage and push it from the balcony on to the front yard, where we left it in hot sun for a few hours, after which we would wear gloves and put it inside the bin. He mentioned that he would get symptoms on the fourth or fifth day, if at all, and if nothing and he felt alright, then he will finish his self-imposed quarantine. At that point, we didn’t know he needed to do this for fourteen days, news and details about self-quarantine hadn’t picked up yet.”

Healthy 22-year-old

Then on the morning of March 20, Shanker said her son who relatively led a very healthy lifestyle, started showing mild symptoms. “That day he was supposed to come out of quarantine and have breakfast with us. But he felt unwell - fever, headache, bodyache, tired. He was sore, specially lower body. Quite unlike him. He didn’t have sore throat or cough or breathlessness. He decided to continue quarantine/isolation for another two or three days. Next day, he was the same, very little cough but no improvement. Fever was slightly higher but not much 99.7 degrees. He was practically living in isolation at home already. He was sleeping for 16 hours a day. Rest of the time he attended online classes.”

Symptoms and intensity for COVID-19 varies person to person, young people may not show any symptoms at all. The family decided to call the DHA helpline. Shanker said: "We explained his symptoms and DHA advised us to get his test done because of symptoms and travel history. He got tested on March 21. They said that the results will be out in 72 hours.

Testing positive for COVID-19

“My husband, myself and our 49-year-old maid were advised to be in quarantine - not to step out of the house and not meet anyone until results are out. My son was to continue to be in isolation until results. Basically, we kept doing whatever we were doing already. We hadn’t stepped out of the house since March 15. Nobody had come home either. So nothing different for us. We were told we will be called only if the test is positive. When we didn’t receive any call from DHA after 72 hours we kept wondering what to do. But we decided it was best to continue isolation until we saw a negative report. The report gets uploaded on the DHA app, but, on March 24 nothing had been updated on the app. We wondered if we were checking the wrong portal so we called DHA and they explained that there were delays in uploading due to an overwhelming amount of tests being done.”

Dubai has conducted the highest number of coronavirus tests per million in the world. By March 23, 220,000 tests were conducted and as of Saturday, the total number of COVID-19 patients in the UAE is 1,505.

Shanker's family that has lived in Dubai for 11 years now, continued in isolation. They just chatted on WhatsApp or spoke to their son from outside his door. “He said he was feeling better. Fever and headache had reduced but body ache persisted. He was very tired all the time so he slept a lot.”

On March 25, we got a call in the evening from DHA that our son had tested positive. Since they knew about our strict isolation they asked us to continue that. They told us there was no treatment for it, so for now there was nothing to be done except let the body’s immunity fight it out. If symptoms or health worsens then naturally we would need to take him to the hospital. My son most likely got the virus during the flight back home. All his mates who were with him on the campus right till the point he took the flight home, have not been affected with the coronavirus.”

Dubai Health Authority does the needful and more

Yogita Shanker added: “I was tearing up every now and then, but my husband and my son told me to be strong. They said it is not a death sentence. He said he was feeling fine, because of his age and good health.

“Then we heard from DHA on March 26, that they will send an ambulance to take him to an isolation centre operated by a hospital. We were advised that he will be under medical supervision and monitoring. He was taken there on the evening of March 27. All his tests - throat, nasal swab, blood, EKG, X-ray were done immediately. His x-ray came clear. The vitals were all okay. They are repeating tests every three days. He is very well looked after. As soon as his two tests are negative, he can return home. His first test result is negative. We are waiting for more test results but we talk to him every day. DHA calls us every now and then to inquire about our symptoms, and to ask us how our son is doing.”

She added: “Since we are New Zealand citizens, we got a call from New Zealand Embassy too, to inquire about his health and how we are all holding up. It’s been 17 days since he first got symptoms. The remaining three members of the family, myself, my husband and our maid do not have any symptoms as yet. We were told somebody would come home to do our test, but no one has because people with symptoms are being given priority for testing. We are under quarantine and just chilling at home. Initially, we were worried about our son and also what if somehow we too had got it. Any sign of slight headache would throw me in a tizzy. It was more of imagination and out of stress. But, we have successfully broken the chain by taking all precautions, staying confined at home and following all the rules of quarantine.”

Community steps in to help

Shanker said her community and neighbours are helping a lot too: “If a neighbour goes out for groceries then they would get mine too and leave it outside the gate. We disinfect it and bring it home. When they were legally stepping out, they were leaving bread baskets, books, get well soon wishes, masks outside our gate. We don’t know their names or haven’t seen them."

"There has been an overwhelming support from the community, the society and the government. I am glad, we did our part in not becoming a further liability to the system. Those who are getting exposed to the virus due to unavoidable circumstances like my son need the medical attention. But secondary people like us can avoid it and by breaking this chain we will not strain the system. If my son was not wise to go under strict self-isolation from the time he came, just now there would be four more of us with the virus. And given our age, who cannot be sure of how our immunity would respond, although we are seemingly healthy with no pre-conditions. We would then have only ourselves to blame if things do go wrong.”