UAE families devastated by loss of parents to Covid-19 urge public to stay safe

Grieving relatives remind people of the need to protect themselves and others during the pandemic

Families in the UAE who lost elderly relatives to Covid-19 are appealing to others to stay safe.

They hope sombre reminders of the devastating effects of the pandemic will highlight the need to remain vigilant.

Dubai banker Rita Gandhi lost both her in-laws to the virus in January.

It takes a toll on the patient and family, it’s the loneliness of this disease

- Kinjal Tanna

They died within a couple of days of each other in Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah hospitals, each not knowing the other was critically ill.

Her father-in-law died on January 13 and his wife two days later.

“My mother-in-law kept asking but we never told her that my father-in-law was in ICU and on a ventilator. We told her it would take time for him to heal,” she said.

“They were in hospital for 15 days and died within a span of just 48 hours. No one should go through losing two people so quickly.”

'Angry and upset'

Dubai resident Kinjal Tanna's octogenarian father Jagdish died on March 1 after a month-long battle in hospital.

“I’m very angry and upset with what the virus has done to so many families," he said.

"Before the people who died were those you had heard of, now it is people you know.”

The Indian community, the largest group of expatriates in the UAE, was hit hard.

Mr Tanna belongs to a close-knit group called the India Club, one of Dubai’s oldest and based in Oud Metha.

Before the pandemic struck, it was a favourite spot for grandparents, who met friends as they watched over their young grandchildren.

The club lost 15 members to Covid-19 and, in a recent newsletter, mourned their deaths.

“It is with deep regret that we announce the sad demise of our members,” the club said, offering condolences to the families.

'People are dying before their time'

Kishan Gandhi and his wife Lata at the wedding of their granddaughter in January last year. The elderly couple died of Covid-19 within 48 hours of each other. Their family is keen to remind people to stay safe. Courtesy: Gandhi family
Kishan Gandhi and his wife Lata at the wedding of their granddaughter in January last year. The elderly couple died of Covid-19 within 48 hours of each other. Their family is reminding people to stay safe. Courtesy: Gandhi family

Ms Gandhi’s family has not recovered from the shock of losing both parents so quickly.

Her father-in-law Kishan Gandhi would have turned 81 in March. Her mother-in-law Lata was 76 when she died of Covid-19 in January.

The family could not get them admitted to the same hospital because of the demand for beds during the second wave the city experienced earlier this year.

The couple were taken to hospital in late December and required ventilator support when their oxygen levels decreased.

The family spent New Year talking to doctors about their condition and could not visit because of Covid-19 safety protocols.

“Speaking about this is still difficult for my husband, his brothers and sister,” Ms Gandhi said.

“A day after my father-in-law was taken to hospital, my mother-in-law had fever, breathlessness."

The couple had lived in the Emirates since the early 1960s and raised two generations who call the UAE home.

Ms Gandhi, 51, said she hoped others would never have to face the emotional upheaval the family experienced.

“We sometimes get very angry. A lot of people are dying all around the world before their time and they would have had a longer life if not for Covid,” she said.

“My in-laws would travel to India and Canada to see family every few months. Even now we feel they are out and will come back to us from a holiday. We have to cope with this grief.”

The elderly Gandhis had not been vaccinated because registrations had just begun opening up in December when they contracted the virus.

Virus 'cannot be taken lightly'

The family wants to spread the message relayed by health authorities that face masks must remain.

“People think because they have taken the vaccine, they will be fine,” she said.

“I cannot stress this enough. People must follow all safety measures. Covid cannot be taken lightly even after you take the vaccine.”

Isolation has hit families

Jagdish Tanna, second left, a UAE resident for more than 40 years with his family in happier times. Mr Tanna lost a month-long battle to Covid-19 in March. Courtesy: Tanna family
Jagdish Tanna, second left, a UAE resident of more than 40 years, with his family in happier times. Mr Tanna lost a month-long battle to Covid-19 in March. Courtesy: Tanna family

Mr Tanna tried to boost his father's spirits on the phone as the 80-year-old fought a month-long battle against Covid-19.

His father had never spent a day in hospital in more than 40 years in the Emirates but required hospital care when his Covid-19 symptoms worsened in February.

“Before he went on the ventilator, I told my dad on the phone that he needed to get better for my mother’s birthday and their wedding anniversary.”

The elder Tanna died on March 1, days before his wife's birthday and their 47th wedding anniversary.

The isolation brought on by the disease also affects families.

Doctors update families on phone calls because hospital visits are not permitted, to reduce exposure to the virus.

“It takes a toll on the patient and family, it’s the loneliness of this disease,” Mr Tanna, 45, said.

“My dad was the centre of our family and our lives revolved around him. He was the most positive person who would call to cheer up anyone feeling low.”

The isolation and detachment saddens families who cannot be near their loved ones because of the virulent nature of the disease.

Funeral rituals too have changed with immediate family allowed a short 10-minute prayer and flowers placed on top of bags that are sealed.

“You see a person every morning but when he needs you most, you are not near by to say, ‘Dad, I love you',” Mr Tanna said.

“You just feel so sorry about this.”

Vaccine does not make you immune

Mr Tanna's father had taken the first dose of Sinopharm at the end of January and contracted the disease days before his second shot in February.

The Tanna family is keen to remind people of the danger of catching the fast-spreading disease.

“If you have taken the vaccine, it does not mean you are immune to the virus. It’s a killer disease and people forget this,” Mr Tanna said.

The television producer calls for vigilance.

He often calls out people who wear their masks on the chin and pack into elevators ignoring signs that only four people are permitted.

“I have actually walked out of the lift many times because people say, ‘So what?’ when I remind them it is crowded and over the capacity allowed,” he said.

“It is this blatant ‘nothing is going to happen to me’ attitude that angers me. People need to wake up and realise Covid is not going away any time soon."

Updated: June 12, 2021 03:49 PM

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