Corona virus storyInterview with Tailia Sapir

A knock on the door, a white Alien all covered up, no face, stood at the doorway, instructed me not to cough at him and open my mouth. He took a sample from my throat and my nose and left… the whole thing took one minute.

My name is Talia and I am 53 years old working in Keren Hayesod. I am in charge of projects of the European division and a short term emissary for Scandinavian countries.

In the beginning of February I started to hear about a mysterious virus in Wuhan China, at that time we were planning our winter European conference in Belgium. This virus  seems to be something that will not concern me personally or Keren Hayesod as an organization since every few years there is a dangerous virus from china who comes from chickens, pigs and bats and it never really affected us in Israel, so there I was not worried at all, therefore on the 22nd of February I flew out with some of my collogues to our annual winter European conference with our professional emissaries from all over Europe.

The flight was almost empty but I did not really worry about it, I was happy I could get a great seat with room for my legs, when we landed the airport was full with life and there was no sign to what is coming ahead.

The conference was very interesting and inspiring but we started hearing that this mysterious virus has reached Italy and that many people are getting sick and we had an emissary with us who is from Milan the main area of the infection.

We did not know much about it, but we all started to look at him with suspicion like he is a living incubator of the mysteries virus and whenever he came to close we all started to take a step away politely, he of course  understood the situation and  kept apologizing of his existence and assured us he was feeling great, it was a bizarre situation since we all like him a lot.

As the conference proceeded there was more disturbing news of what is happening in Italy and we understood that this could possibly be spreading all across Europe, Belgium being no exception, everyone started to look suspicious to the hotel staff, the waiter in the restaurant, the taxi driver who sneezed, the tourists who were sitting next to us in the lobby, everyone is a potential carrier, at the evening of the third day I broke down and went to buy a hand disinfecting gel and started cleaning my hands frequently.

On the 27th of February we heard that Israel stopped all coming flights from china and Italy, and I think it was one of the first countries to do so. Our flight back was on the 28th and going to the airport seemed kind of unnerving, when we arrived at the airport there were a lot of Asian people with masks on and suddenly I really started to worry, the airport was half empty and the atmosphere was very different from when we flew in a few day ago. When we came on board the plane was full and I heard people saying that since the situation in Europe will be bad it’s best come back home, we did not have masks on but a lot of people on the plain did and it felt like I am in a bad American movie about the end of the world by a terrible pandemic, it seems such a long flight, but finally we landed at Ben Gurion and the airport was almost empty, never saw the airport this way, but I was happy to come home.

Back to normal? Or COVID-19...

Everything seemed to get back to normal, I was back in the office for a couple of days and on the third day I was leading a project day to some of our office staff, around 40 people. On that evening I started feeling unwell and seemed to have all the symptoms that you hear about in the news, I had chills, low fever, and a sore throat, naturally I started imagining hospitals, respiratory machines, emergency unit ward and it felt like I am going to leave my family behind. This extra thinking did not help my hysteria, yes maybe I am a little of a hypochondriac but this time I had justification.

I called the MDA to ask what to do, and they said that since I did not come from Italy or China I do not have to be quarantined and that I am not allegeable for testing so I stayed home sick and worried, even felt short of breath sometimes. I was wondering if this is the COVID19 or my imagination. The Ministry of Health built an app following the rout of the COVID19 infected people and they numbered them and I started following all the sick people and where they came from obsessively all came from Italy and few from China but after a few days there was number 34 who was the first person who came from Belgium and tested positive, now I was sure am sick with COVID19 and I will get tested, called MDA again, and told them that number 34 is like me came from Belgium but even so they did not agree to come and check me out. My fever was up my body heart I had a bad cough that was started to sound like a 90 years old man with sever lung disease, and my nose seemed to have a life of its own drowning me with leak that could not be stopped. I self-quarantined myself just to be on the safe side. A few days later the regulation was changed and anyone who was in a conference with a lot of people were supposed to be in quarantine for 14 days from the day of arrival, I was already over a week in Israel so I called the MDA again and this time I was entitled for a COVID19 test, hallelujah! They said it would take up to 48 hours and if I feel even worse. They told me not to come into the hospital they will come to me, finally I was taken seriously.

After three days and me getting to feel a bit better and endless times of me calling about the test, a knock on the door, a white Alien all covered up, no face, stood at the doorway, instructed me not to cough at him and open my mouth. He took a sample from my throat and my nose and left… the whole thing took one minute.

Since I went to work when I came back  and on a bus with about 40 of my colleagues,  people from work started to worry did I infect them, some of them have children in the army so it means they cannot come home, the instructions were more strict as the virus spread. l was swamped with phone calls and text messages; everyone was waiting for my test result. First time in my life I was kind of a celebrity who would imagine that my test result would build up such an interest, but there it was. But spite it all the result did not come so fast and I did feel a bit guilty that half of Keren Hayesod staff might be infected because of me. I made numerous phone calls, again and again no result. I started feeling much better physically, yet no testing results. My daughter who is doing a year of volunteering in Ayalim had to come home for the weekend and I was not sure if she could. Everyone was in suspense and after five long days and nights I received the test result, I was clear I had a normal ordinary boring flew.  

On the same day I got the test result Keren Hayesod told all its employees that we should work from home, and little by little everything in Israel was shut down. I was worried a bit for my daughter, at the time or the outbreak she was distributing food packages to elderly and families in need. She came home every two weeks for the weekend, and I was proud of her but worried that she is exposed to so many people every day.

Working around the clock

As things have developed we at Keren Hayesod understood that the new situation brought with it many countless immense needs of vulnerable populations like the Amigour elderly and new immigrant that kept on coming to Israel but had to be in 14 days of Quarantine, families that found themselves with no work and income. This new situation created the need for us to work around the clock to try and raise funds to those in need , this was a big task and we literally worked around the clock hopeful that we are doing something to ease the extreme situation that people found themselves in. We could not have done it without the help of all our supporters from Europe and all over the world and for that I am grateful. A week ago we came back to work in the office, it’s a bit strange since we have to put masks on, check our fever as we come in, and sign a health assurance that we are ok. Things are getting gradually back to normal and the situation in Israel is very reassuring with only 24 people who got sick in the last 24 hours. So I am hoping this will be behind us soon, with no second wave around the corner.