An Indian national recounts her stressful return to her family in Switzerland aboard one of the last repatriation flights.
It was 8.05 am on April 26, an hour after the LX-8919 flight from the Indian city of Kochi landed at Zurich Airport and I was still on the plane. A few minutes later, when our row number was called out by the airport personnel, I disembarked quietly from the aircraft - the only plane that had landed at this hour. The airport was eerily quiet and it was less crowded than normal. People walked slowly in small groups. My eyes spotted a known face from a distance waiting for me anxiously by the doors of the departure gate.
It somehow felt strange not to get the usual warm “welcome back” hugs or kisses from my husband. Only tears of joy. He drove me home to Geneva. When we reached I stood at the door for a few minutes gazing at my children, my beloved precious little ones. Their eyes twinkled with exhilaration on seeing me. I could feel a sense of accomplishment in their eyes. This “special” moment that we were all waiting for had finally come.
It was a moment that we truly deserved after I had dodged the coronavirus that had spread like a forest fire to almost all the places that I had travelled on a holiday to India. I had successfully completed an evacuation operation.
Ten days earlier, I was in my parents’ home in the southern Indian city of Chennai and under lockdown. I started the day with my usual prayers. I had stayed awake for most of the night anxious about the outcome of my Covid-19 test results. The country was in lockdown and the previous morning, a man fully covered in white PPE entered the house to carry out the test.
I was ready for it. “Come what may, I am going to take this test,” I told myself. This test would after all determine whether I could fly out next week to re-join my family in Geneva or not. I also wanted to be sure that I wasn’t infected anyway. I was probably asymptomatic and living with the virus all this while. These were the thoughts running through my head.
The man dressed in white stood by the entrance of the apartment. He took the throat swab and it was all done. The entire process took less than five minutes. I was happy that it was over and waited for the medical report results.
It was the Tamil New Year’s Day and Vishu - an auspicious day for the people of the Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, that marks the beginning of the new year. The Covid-19 test results finally arrived in an email. I quickly scrolled down to read through the results. Immediately, I emailed the results to my doctor. The doctor confirmed that the test was negative. My children got excited knowing that I finally had a chance to fly back to Geneva and be with them.
I then got in touch with the Swiss embassy representative who was assisting me with the repatriation efforts. I was offered an option to fly via the UK but there was not enough time to reach the airport and I dropped the idea. I was then given the option to board the last repatriation flight from India to Switzerland. It would leave on April 25 from Kochi, almost 700km away. I had to get there by road at any cost.
On my road trip to Kochi I was stopped at the Walayar inter-state border post where I was scanned to ascertain my body temperature. I was not surprised when they asked me to step aside after having detected a high body temperature. I knew in the back of my mind that it was because I was sipping hot water while sitting by the window of the vehicle when it was blazing hot outside.
I pointed out to the police officer that despite looking healthy, almost half of the passengers scanned showed high temperatures. He smiled and asked us to wait for a bit before the second round of scanning.
I was right. After standing in the shade for a few minutes, everyone was found to have a normal temperature in the second round of scanning. Nevertheless, it was a stressful few minutes for everybody.
I heaved a sigh of relief when we were let inside Kochi Airport after yet more temperature scanning. Other passengers in the airport refused to message their friends or family until they were seated in their plane seats. There was so much uncertainty until the last minute and I wasn’t alone.
My parents and I got emotional when I finally took my seat on the flight. I secretly hoped that they would sleep well that night. I realised then that my journey was actually happening. When I look back, what really got me this far was nothing but hope. When I reached home in Geneva, it didn’t matter that I didn’t get a hug or a kiss. What mattered most was that I got home in the end.
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