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It’s 03:30PM 7th of March 2020, at London, United Kingdom. Nearly, 75,000 humans have already lost their lives and so far, total number of active infected patients of COVID-19 have reached 1,000,000 approximately worldwide, almost all the countries are locked down and more or less every person on this planet Earth is affected by these new regulations. Like many others out there, my experience was horrendous and unfortunate. In this blog I share the episode of my last 40 days of travelling, how I got affected by COVID-19 precautionary measures taken by governments, how my work and leisure trip turned into a nightmare.
I won’t start with the nice opening paragraph to set out the scope of this blog. I would like to jump straight into the timeline as, I can’t hold my breath anymore to share what I got in my mind so, let’s get started.
27th February, 2020 Took the flight to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Landed at Abu Dhabi Airport, my mate was supposed to pick me up at 10:00PM but, woefully, he was 30 minutes late, which least to my expectation was the most unfortunate thing to happen to me “at that stage”. However, I got picked up by my super cool mate Amir, we were too excited, after greetings, we straight off started planning out our next few days. We followed all of our plans including Jet Ski, Arabian Safari Trip and all, before heading to England.
29th February, 2020 Took flight to Manchester. It was my first visit to England I was looking forward to it. I managed to sort out accommodation, took the car on rent, jumped on to my work stuff immediately to finish ASAP. I had a well organised budget to chill out,
meeting friends, food, shopping, accomodation and other living needs as planned. After I got done with my work commitments, I pursued my other plans, went to see my friend at Peterborough stayed over at his place, afterwards, drove all the way to Bradford to meet some more people.
13th March, 2020 Took The Train to London, from now onwards, I was more like a dude chilling around, full of energy who really wants to take a lot of pictures and post them on Instagram for friends, family and memories. Yes, I was on it, from the very second day, I was enthusiastically boarding Underground Tubes and Trains, Experiencing the excitement of Leicester Square, tasting different cuisines, inspecting English architectural stylistic periods designed buildings.
I am very fond of British Educational Institutes specifically, Cambridge and Oxford University so I lined up a visit to Cambridge university, I took many pictures every site at Cambridge was utterly a new experience for me, every old structured building was telling a new story, revealing centuries of struggle to get to the utmost perfection. While I was walking around I wished if I could ever get my name written somewhere on the walls of Cambridge or Oxford University. Well, I had a clue of what I could do, at the same day, so, I ordered a Fish & Chips and posted that on Snap Chat with University of Cambridge filter on it.
I AM GOING TO FAST FORWARD THE EVENTS OF NEXT FEW DAYS
18th March, 2020 I had a plan to fly to France to see my mate from Australia, we used to live on campus, together, while I was studying in Adelaide, Australia. Well I had a flight back to Pakistan on 24th March and Coronavirus pandemic was picking up the pace, so, I decided not to fly to France and alternatively, took the train to Manchester Piccadilly Station and checked into a short term place to live till 24th of March, which became hard to organise, because of the sudden lockdown all over the United Kingdom. That was the moment when, I first realised that the I was done with the holiday and something horrific was waiting for me. Next few days I had to live in an Isolation with uncertainty and panic.
24th March, 2020 I had flight with Etihad Airways on 24th March from Manchester to Islamabad. Previous evening Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority PCAA locked down all the Pakistani Airports and suspended all the International and domestic flights. On 23rd of March United Kingdom declared a nationwide lockdown, in effect to it, my accommodation closed down on 24th March. Lockdown closed utmost everything included Hotels, Restaurants, most of the Public Transport and other essentials for travelling etc. Government imposed travel ban with exception to “essential travelling”only. It all happened very quickly that I couldn’t even realize that how badly it was going to affect me. I had no other option than going to Sheffield which was very close to Manchester and I had a close friend living there.
Without giving any notice or call to my friend because his phone was switched off, I took the Train to Sheffield, when I arrived at the station, I couldn’t find any bus so I walked about 2Km with luggage to the hostel listed on website stated open, when I got there I found that they were closed for Public and took over by NHS for quarantine purposes. Consequently, I had no other place to crash and didn’t know anybody else than my friend Ijlal and his phone was switched off.
I walked to the Grocery store which was closing at 01:00AM so I could buy some stuff to eat, while walking through the pedestrian underpass, I found a homeless guy. I offered him food, cigarettes and very little cash to build some attachment with him. I stayed there for a while he kept eating food and finally, he cracked a conversation about the current COVID-19 pandemic and other possible threats of it. We kept talking for few hours and found good common grounds to talk about, he used to work at the fuel station but, because of his disability he lost his job, I felt like I knew him for a very long time, in a very short period of time we shared a lot about ourselves and our life experiences. He offered me help with anything, he even offered me to share his small tent with him, that was so nice of him. The place was so deserted because of lockdown and It was a cold night, we decided to walk to the fuel station to get coffee (by the way he forcefully paid for the coffee). Finally, by 08:00 AM my friend called me back and came to pick me up. In the end, I would say, I learnt many lessons while I was at the pedestrian underpass at that night. For instance, you always don’t need substantial event to happen in your life to teach you essential lessons such as valuable companionship.
25th March, 2020 Ijlal picked me up straight away, we couldn’t find any place to crash so, Ijlal took me to his own student accommodation and arranged one room for next few days by requesting the on-campus accommodation management. The very same day, I bought myself groceries and other essentials, for the next few days, to stay in Isolation.
27th March, 2020 My new flight to Pakistan which was on 6th of April got cancelled again, which came to me as a shock since I booked this flight after considerable efforts to ascertain that Pakistan Government announced to lift the travel Ban on 5th April. However, even after the closure of 7 days Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority PCAA could not manage to give any information or updates, that when International Airlines will be allowed to fly to Pakistan, so, I booked a new flight for 17th April as no other option or information was available.
28 March, 2020 As a Pakistani National I dared to hope that at least in this time of crisis Pakistan High Commission London (PHC) would be able to help or guide. They advised me to contact Pakistan International Airline (PIA) to find out about their plans. I called PIA London office and found out that their planes were not clear yet to fly back.
29 March, 2020 Emailed Pakistan High Commission London PHC asking for help, in return I got reply the same day asking for my details. I sent my contact number, passport number and copies of two airlines tickets I had from Emirates and Etihad. The same day UAE suspended all their flights, consequently, my flight on 17th got cancelled. I called PIA for number of times but, I couldn’t get any information and PHC never picked up my calls.
30 March, 2020 My accommodation where I was living, took over by National Health Service (NHS) and I was almost out of cash at that stage as, I was carrying a limited amount of cash for the total number of days I was travelling. According to new government notification I couldn’t pay cash over the counter anymore and only contactless cards were accepted, luckily my Australian bank account card was active and accepted but, I had very limited funds available in that Account. At this stage, because of the lack of information given by Pakistan Government and there was no reply from the Pakistan High Commission London PHC so, I used my online banking to pay for the another flight ticket from Qatar Airways. They were the only Airline opened for transit and I booked new flight for 9th April from London to Islamabad.
I contacted one of my friend who lives in London, I am so lucky to have very good friends who came all the way to pick me up because all the accommodations were closed down or taken over by NHS and there was no public transport available. After a long drive of 4 hours and sleeplessness we finally got back home.
4 April, 2020 Qatar Airways cancelled all flight from London to Islamabad, till 11th April due to PCAA not allowing any international Airline to land at any Pakistani Airport. Well, even now, no information is available anywhere that, when Pakistani airports will allow flights from other Airlines to land at Pakistani Airports. I explained my situation to the Qatar Airways Help Centre and the lady on the phone consulted with her manager to get an idea about the status of flights to Pakistan, she took proper time and effort to look into flights status and booked me in for 12th of April Fight from London to Islamabad. I am not sure, If I am going to get that flight or not but, I would love to say that Qatar Airways have been very helpful to me than, Pakistan High Commission and Pakistan International Airline collectively.
7th April, 2020 Tried to call the PIA offices in London and PHC London they have got no information available regarding International Airlines and it has already been more than two weeks of their cluelessness. It is not like all the other countries are treating their citizens the same way like Pakistan did, Australian High commission in London giving free medical and consular help, their borders are open for all the Australians living in UK or Abroad and they are helping to evacuate them too. Canada is offering the same help and proper support program for their citizens. Almost all the countries around the world are at least accommodating their citizens. I am not sure if I am going to catch this flight or not but, I am thankful to that CSR of Qatar Airways, who took time to actually help me out and made me feel well attended.
I have realised that when it comes to crisis in your life or Natural Disasters the only help you get is from your own network, friends, family or neighbours. We pay taxes to Government who may take care of macro issues, how do they do it is another subject matter. But, I reckon, we should rather be more worried about paying our love and regards to our friends and family, who have always been there to help you out whenever needed. Only a common man can understand the feelings of other common man. I believe, humanity is above all discriminations such as race, religion, colour and in the end humanity is the only thing that prevails.