Big test: 5 generations of one family at risk when COVID struck

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Five generations of one Afghan family shared 14 days of isolation after two of them tested positive to COVID-19. Bahar Azadzoi writes.

It was two weeks of boredom, tension and chaos.

This Melbourne Afghan household – covering nine people and five generations from four years old to over a century – went through 14 days of isolation together after one member collapsed, and then tested positive to COVID-19 in hospital.

Their fear of contagion was only added to by the regular visits by police and soldiers to make sure they were complying with COVID-19 quarantine rules.

“They had come over to the house a few times,” Hasib, 18 – one of two positive cases in the household – said. “I was stuck in my room but could see from the window.”

At the centre of the household were married couple Atifa and Akbar Azadzoi, who have seven children and 10 grandchildren. Three of their children and two of their grandchildren were also living in the house.

The eldest member of the household was Atifa’s mother – great-grandmother Hashima, who is believed to be 102, though no one knows for certain.

Atifa and Akbar Azadzoi

Also present were their daughter Freshta and her husband Siar, who are living with family because of renovations to their own home; their children Summer, 4, and Zayn, 7; and Freshta’s brothers Nawid and Hasib.

Hasib, who is Atifa and Akbar’s youngest child, said he had heard that that his cousin tested positive to the coronavirus, not long after they had been in close contact.

He wasn’t fazed by this at first. “Coronavirus wasn’t really something I was worried about,” he said.

But then his brother-in-law Siar, who suffers from asthma, collapsed and was taken to hospital. He tested positive. 

Hasib and Siar both tested positive to the virus.

Siar said he was in hospital for a couple of days. “I have an existing breathing issue in my lungs which made me react badly to the virus,” he said.

This placed the whole household in isolation, with Hasib and Siar in their own separate space. Police and ADF members did regular checks.

Hasib said his symptoms were the same as “the common cold” and lasted only briefly. “I got better after the first day.” However, Siar’s experience included “dry coughs, chills and a headache”, as well as time in hospital. 

“The good moments were that I had snacks and games to play with,” Hasib said. “The bad moments were that we weren’t allowed to go downstairs where everyone else is.”

Freshta, who was in the household with her husband and children because their own home was being renovated.

Atifa and Akbar’s other children delivered groceries and supplies every couple of days. “They would deliver us fresh home-cooked meals,” Hasib said. 

Freshta’s task was to keep her children’s spirits up after their daily trips to the parks were abruptly stopped. 

“Their day-to-day routine included waking up, playtime, eating, then spending time on the phone for hours on end until they fell asleep,” says the mother of two. “They were bored out of their minds!”

With Casey Central and multiple parks in their view, Freshta said “they were tempted more than ever to run out the door”.

Great-grandmother Hashima, who speaks no English, suffers from dementia and is affectionately known to all as “the granny”, had to be reminded every day why no one could see her, Freshta said. She did not get sick at all. 

“The granny stays in the living room space downstairs which we turned into a bedroom, so she wouldn’t have to walk upstairs,” says Freshta. “She can barely move anymore.” 

Earlier this year, she was seriously ill in hospital with an infected kidney stone. Despite her age, she recovered fully and was able to return to the family home.

“She’s the best, but she does drive everyone crazy,” Freshta said. “The granny sings, has a lot of demands and asks endless questions just like a mischievous child would.”

Now that self-isolation has ended for Siar and Hasib, they are elated to be able to spend quality time with family again. Lockdown hasn’t ended, but if five different generations of family under one roof can survive this, then anyone can.