Coronavirus: 16 days in isolation were tough but necessary, says recovered Dubai dad

Deepak Malhotra, 44, urges people to strictly abide by stay-at-home rules to stop others getting sick

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For 16 days, the only people Deepak Malhotra came into physical contact with were wearing full hazmat suits.

Mr Malhotra, 44, was one of the first 100 people in the UAE to test positive for coronavirus.

For more than a fortnight, he was kept in isolation in an eighth-floor room in Dubai's City Hospital, filling his days with Netflix, phone and video calls, work and exercise. He also kept a video diary to document his confinement.

Now back at home with his family after making a full recovery, he opened up about his experience of coronavirus, his time in isolation and why he believes the tough measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 are necessary.

I was having to phone people saying 'I've been with you in the last two weeks, I've now been diagnosed'. That wasn't a very easy thing to do

“I was worried, it was a shock,” Mr Malhotra said, describing his reaction at being told he tested positive for coronavirus on March 13.

“My first thought was 'have I infected anyone else? My colleagues, my family …' I was also thinking 'what’s going to happen to me? Could this make me really sick?'

“Another shock was when I was told I would have to stay in isolation, I couldn’t leave, I couldn’t see anyone. I was having to phone people saying ‘I’ve been with you in the past two weeks, I’ve now been diagnosed’. That wasn’t a very easy thing to do. It was emotionally quite difficult at that time.”

While he was feeling rundown and slightly unwell, he did not have any of the tell-tale signs of coronavirus, such as a dry cough or fever.

After he went to his doctor and later the hospital, he was tested as he was a Type-1 diabetic, meaning he is in a group at risk, and travelled in late February to India, where he stayed in a hotel where another guest was found to have the virus.

No members of his family, including his mother, 74, whom he lives with in Dubai, tested positive, nor did any of his colleagues. Mr Malhotra, a British citizen who has lived in the UAE for seven years, puts this down to the fact that he was not coughing or sneezing. He and his family also followed hygiene measures, such as washing their hands rigorously.

He described the hospital room, which became his home for 16 days as similar to a hotel room, with ensuite facilities. When he moved in, the rules were that two consecutive tests would have to come back negative before he could be released, although this was increased to three during his stay.

He said keeping to a routine was crucial to maintaining his mental health and he also looked forward to ordering food using a delivery app. His deliveries to the hospital would be left by nurses outside his door.

He praised the level of care he received and, while he did not go on to become seriously unwell, he said the isolation was the most difficult aspect of the illness.

“It’s hard, you’re in a room with no fresh air, not seeing family or friends," he said. "But you’re speaking to people, there were lots of positive messages. Social media helped a lot.

“Any time anyone came into my room, they would have a proper hazmat suit on. It felt bizarre.

"The nurses would come in and check me every day and the doctors would always consult me by phone. It was surreal when I finally walked out, as I got to see what everybody actually looked like.”

A negative test on March 15 raised hopes that his stay in isolation would be a short one, but when a follow-up was positive two days later, it became apparent Mr Malhotra, who runs a consultancy firm in Dubai, was in for the long haul.

He tested negative on March 21, 23 and 25, and left on March 28. He had to sign an undertaking not to leave his home for 14 days, but is now with his family, including his daughters, 6 and 11.

Although now clear of the disease, he is continuing to limit physical contact with members of his family as a precaution.

File photo of Deepak Malhotra with his family - mother Neetu, wife Malika and daughters Saanvi, 11, and Mahi, 6. Deepak Malhotra

He is urging others to abide by strict rules around social distancing and staying at home to prevent others getting sick.

“Keeping me quarantined was absolutely the right thing to do,” he said.

“It was difficult for me, but necessary. Many countries in the world you can’t get tested; I had six.

“But no one can tell what impact the illness will have on them. To me, when you’re young and relatively healthy, our responsibility is not to infect anyone else.”

It does make one quite angry, having been through this yourself, to see irresponsible and selfish behaviour

He said it upset him to see images of people across the world flouting rules designed to protect people by continuing to travel unnecessarily and socialising with people from outside their households.

“If people are going out and doing things that are effectively risking other people’s health, it’s very selfish and very dangerous,” he said. “It does make one quite angry, having been through this yourself, to see irresponsible and selfish behaviour.

“It’s just not on and not acceptable, and it’s happening in countries all over the world. This is why governments have to be strong, and here in the UAE, I welcome the robust approach. But I think it [people ignoring advice and rules] is happening less and less now.

“If people just continue to follow the government guidelines, hopefully we’ll all get through this horrendous period. I have learnt that it is a time to spend with family and think about some of the more important things in life.”