By Ben Garcia

KUWAIT: Every one of us has a coronavirus story. To some the pandemic has been difficult and hard; to others gruesome and horrible; and to the rest tough and unkind. So what is your corona story? Saby, a middle-aged Indian man, has been working in Kuwait for the last 20 years. He said January 2020 was the hardest, as his father passed away. He couldn't even be by his side during his hospital ordeal.

"Until now I am mourning the passing of my father. The fact that you cannot travel and be with your loved ones in times of emergency is the hardest part. He was in hospital in October 2020, was placed in the ICU, then got better and went home. But in December he suffered other health-related issues, so he was admitted to the ICU again.

When you want to be with your loved ones but cannot do anything is the most horrible thing. This has been the saddest moment in my life. Until now I feel terribly bad. At that time I wanted to fly back to India, but the timing and reality on the ground were not in my favor. I loved my father so much, but I didn't have a choice - even if you have money you cannot do anything," Saby said.

Saby said 2020 and now 2021 have been the cruelest years he has encountered. "These have been horrible years, not just for me, but for the entire planet," he said. As of yesterday, the world has recorded 2.7 million COVID-19 deaths, with Kuwait's death toll at 1,215. The coronavirus pandemic continues to devastate countries around the world and there is no sign the virus is going to subside anytime soon, even as the world is slowly rolling out vaccines.

Family separation

Muhammad Tariq, a 47-year-old logistics coordinator, has a disheartening family separation story. His wife and 9-year-old daughter went home to Pakistan on vacation in early Feb 2020. At that time, reports about the coronavirus were just emerging from China and there was no indication it would spread rapidly throughout the world. The virus reached Kuwait in the middle of Feb 2020, and by early March, lockdowns and curfews has started and many people were stranded outside Kuwait.

Tariq's family too was stranded in Pakistan. When Kuwait eventually opened, they waited for some more time to avoid quarantining in a third country as direct flights were banned from certain countries. Some were able to enter Kuwait early on, but others like the family of Tariq who waited for new regulations were eventually stuck in Dubai when they finally decided to return to Kuwait.

On Feb 7, Kuwait decided to ban the entry of all foreigners to Kuwait for two weeks, which was later extended indefinitely. Prior to this ban, there was already a ban on the direct entry of passengers from 35 countries - later expanded to 68 - who had to stay 14 days in a third country before flying to Kuwait.

Hope and prayer

"In early January, my wife and daughter landed in Dubai, but due to a series of border closures, my family is still waiting to be allowed to enter Kuwait. I hope and pray that Kuwait reconsiders the entry ban, especially for dependents, and arranges a mercy flight for them. My family is not the only one stranded in Dubai. They are many others. We have been paying for hotel accommodation based on daily rates and are broke. I hope the Kuwait government will do something about our predicament," Tariq said.

Meanwhile, Raju, an Indian expat, said he was lucky to enter Kuwait just before the coronavirus outbreak. "I returned from vacation before the coronavirus struck Kuwait. A few days after I arrived, they shut the airport. I thought this will be temporary, but my vacation in 2020 was scuppered. The problem I am facing now is that all my part-time jobs were cancelled. I used to earn well from part-time jobs before; now I only have a salary from my regular job. But I am glad that me and my family in India are in good health," he said.

Melody, a Filipina business owner who had opened a restaurant in Salmiya in late-2019, said she is seriously contemplating closing her business. "I cannot earn anything anymore - no more income from my restaurant business. The amount I am now earning is not even enough to pay my restaurant workers and rent. This business before was very lucrative, but now all my savings are gone and my business is about to collapse. I am picking up the pieces that I can and am trying to sell anything to add to my income. I really pray that we survive this trial, as the only other option is to go back home," she said.