Covid-19: Iranian-Kiwi's 2020 tale of family death and grief

Source: 1News

As New Zealand rides out the Omicron wave, it's seen our daily death toll per million surpass the likes of Australia and the United States.

Overall Aotearoa's Covid-19 response has been credited with helping keep the national infection down. But as we shifted away from elimination there has been a cost, with the number of those who've died with Covid-19 hitting a thousand this month.

Ministry of Health figures show that in more than half of these cases Covid-19 was a direct or a contributing cause.

And while we've been gradually easing restrictions in the hopes of a return to a new normal, it's clear this pandemic is far from over.

1 News reached out to a number of those who lost their loved ones to Covid this year, but they all said their grief was still too raw to openly speak about now. However, an Auckland man, who was living in Iran reached out with his story of loss.

This is his story, written to Corazon Miller.

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My name is Ardi Alemi, and I am an Iranian born kiwi.

I migrated to New Zealand in 2010 and met my wife here. We married and now have an 8-year-old daughter born in Aotearoa.

I had to leave everything and everyone behind to come to this wonderful land, including my parents.

When the pandemic hit, I felt helpless, isolated, and guilty - the entire world was struggling with Covid-19.

At the time, my sister lived in Brisbane, Australia.

Have you lost a loved one to Covid-19 in New Zealand? Do you want to pay tribute and share your story? Contact corazon.miller@tvnz.co.nz

My father, 75, and mother, 67, were still in Iran - one of the first countries to be hit by the virus.

I couldn't do anything for them except talk to them over WhatsApp.

Ardi Alemi.

Unlike New Zealand, the government of Iran did not take the outbreak seriously.

Initially, they were in denial.

Then they told conspiracy theories.

By the time they took it seriously, it was already too late.

I wasn't able to do anything - except follow the news coming out of Iran.

Some of it was so absurd that it made my blood boil.

Herbal medication and religious chants were the most normal [solutions to Covid-19].

News stories showed people licking shrines in the hopes of a divine cure.

One man told the public to drink camel urine.

There were paramilitary operations around Tehran to disinfect surfaces.

Then Iran's revolutionary guard went through a ceremony - unveiling to the public, a device that can detect Covid-19 infections from a distance of one hundred meters.

When vaccines did become available, the supreme leader of Iran forbid the use of any vaccine made by the USA or UK.

Officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The alternatives were the Russian Sputnik vaccine, which wasn't tested, and the Chinese vaccine Sinopharm which had an incredibly low success rate.

Iran's government didn't purchase either of these.

Every day I woke up and checked my Instagram, the only social media that is not yet blocked in Iran, for news of friends and family in Iran.

It was a sad day with the news of someone going to hospital or the cemetery.

The Persian hashtag 'buy vaccines' became common.

The government didn't lock down any cities or pay those away from work.

So people had two choices - tap into their savings and stay home or go to work.

In October 2020, the thing I feared most became true.

My father got sick and was taken to the hospital.

Ardi Alemi's father, Akbar, with his granddaughter.

That evening I had the chance to talk to him over video.

The next day he was attached to a breathing machine and put in an artificial coma. My mother became infected the day after him, she was also taken to ICU.

Doctors decided to use an experimental treatment - hemoperfusion.

But the medication and medical treatments were not easily available.

Some had to be bought from the black market for a very expensive price.

My father died five days later.

My mother remained in ICU. I didn't know how to break the sad news to her.

No one was allowed to see her.

No one was there to hold her hand when she was told.

She couldn't cry because of breathing complications.

And I was here, grieving and stressed about my mother's situation.

Helplessness and guilt was all I remember.

I had to witness the burial ceremony on WhatsApp, begging friends and family to hold the phone so I could watch the video of my father's burial.

At the time of his death, there were so many others dying that Tehran cemetery couldn't handle the load.

Within the next five months, a lot of my friends and relatives got the virus and some didn't survive.

Then my best friend who lived in London died.

Thankfully, my mother survived. But she had to go back to an empty house. With no one to look after her she fell into a deep depression.

There was nothing I could do. I wanted to bring her here, but the nation was locked down and there was no chance of an exemption.

Since then, my sister has given birth to a baby boy - and so finally, a couple of months ago, my mother was allowed to travel to Australia to meet her grandchild.

On May 21, I travelled to Australia to see both of them - the first family gathering since my father died.

Ardi Alemi is reunited with his mother.

It was a bittersweet reunion.

My mother still has to wait another two months before she can travel to New Zealand.

The story is not yet finished - I'm not sure what the future holds for us.