Chile with its population of roughly 17.5 million people, is among South America's most economically stable and prosperous nations. To date, roughly 525,000 people in Chile have been
infected with COVID-19, and 14,500 of them have died. How is this virus changing people’s lives – and especially those standing on the payroll of shipping line Hapag-Lloyd? In the company’s
series “My life with COVID-19” series, H-L Communications Director Nils Haupt (NH) and his team take a look at the most affected countries to get first-hand information from the employees how
their lives have changed since March 2020.
In this issue, 30-year-old Marcelo Alejandro Saravia outlines his experience with the pandemic. The native Peruvian is employed in the Latin American regional headquarters of Hapag-Lloyd based in Valparaiso, Chile, where he works as a Global Account Manager.
NH: Marcelo, how was your experience with COVID-19 in Chile?
Until March 2020, everything was fine. I had moved to Chile in July 2019, and I melded in easily. My girlfriend and my family from Peru could visit me regularly, and on my last trip before pandemic, I went to visit them for Christmas. Everything was perfect.
How did COVID-19 then change your life?
I am very close to my family – and suddenly we were no longer able to see each other. I had planned a couple of trips with my girlfriend that had to be cancelled. Additionally, in June, I was going to play in the Hapag-Lloyd soccer tournament, representing RLA.
When the pandemic started, everything was locked down – restaurants, bars, gyms. Therefore, I stayed at home. All my plans vaporized within a few days. And I had to stay in my tiny apartment, alone, for around seven months.
How did you spend your time at home?
During the day, I worked, and at night, I watched all the different news about the situation in Chile and my home country, Peru. But when the situation worsened and the number of casualties was rising tremendously, I needed distraction. I think I saw everything on Netflix (laughs). I played lots of video games. And, as I like music a lot, I bought an electronic drum and played the guitar. But admittedly the nights and especially the weekends became more and more boring.
Then you received a call which was quite frightening and life changing.
True. On 25th of July, my parents called me from Peru and told me that they had both tested COVID-19 positive. At that time, Peru already had lots of COVID-19 related deaths and I got very scared for my parents. Both are risk patients; my Dad (59) with diabetes, my Mom (59) with hypertension. At that time, hospitals were already collapsing in many parts of Latin America. It felt so bad to be far away without being able to help them. I could hardly sleep for days, and when I did, I had nightmares. I honestly expected the worst.
What happened next?
My father had symptoms and an X-Ray showed that parts of his lungs were already affected. My mother had light symptoms for only a few days. My parents live in a very small city in the South of Peru. COVID-19 had not spread a lot over there and the hospitals had not collapsed yet. Luckily, they have a very strong and close relationship with their doctor. He gave them all the medical assistance and medicine they needed – especially Dexamethasone – and they recovered fast. Although they are doing fine right now, and we are very grateful that all has turned out very well, I still feel very sad.
Why is that?
Because not everybody in South America was so lucky. My parents had three advantages: they lived in a small city where the virus was still half-way under control, they had a close and personal contact to a doctor – and they could afford the treatment. Each visit to the doctor was about 100-200 US Dollar plus the cost for the medication. I would also say it was key that they were tested right after the first symptoms appeared and immediately started the treatment. Sadly, public healthcare in Peru is not good. It is hard to see many people dying who live in the pandemic hotspots and don´t have the money or the personal relationships to have a positive outcome. Latin America already has about 400,000 COVID-19 related deaths. It is a tragedy.
Were any other friends or family members affected?
A good friend of mine lost his mother within just a few days. Nobody could help. Another friend of mine, 30 years old, got extremely sick. He was in Intensive Care and needed a respirator. His family was told that he probably won´t survive. Two weeks later, he left the hospital and is now recovering at home. A miracle.
You recently had the chance to fly back to Peru. How does it feel to be home?
I am so happy. Finally, I am together with my girlfriend again. I last saw her at New Year, and I will be able to see my parents soon – after more than eleven months.
What are your plans now?
Well, due to quarantine, I have gained lots of weight. And now, being back in Peru, I gained even more because I love and missed the Peruvian food so much. I will certainly start working out again and hope to lose 10 kilos.
What lessons have you taken away from this challenging time?
Being alone in quarantine showed me how much I love my family – and how much I missed them. I learnt to appreciate how fortunate I am and that during these difficult times we need to take care of each other more than ever. And my message towards the young people: Be careful. Be thoughtful. Be disciplined and be thankful. COVID-19 is not only hitting elderly and sick people. My 30-year-old friend was close to death – and thankfully, he survived.
Interview: Nils Haupt
Hapag-Lloyd’s Nils Haupt has started a series of interviews in which shipping line employees talk about their jobs and the daily challenges they must master in C-19 times.
The interviews are published in H-L’s in-house channels.
By courtesy of the company’s communications department, we are authorized to air the interviews as well.
This way, a broader readership gets access to the testimonials.
So far, Angie Morales from H-L in Guayaquil and Soniya Mokal of H-L Mumbai were featured. More are to come.