When Najeeba Hayat, the popular Kuwaiti shoe designer and the CEO of luxury footwear company Liudmila, traveled to France to celebrate her birthday, the last thing she expected to happen was to be infected with the novel coronavirus.
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“I’m very aware I’m a bit of a germaphobe. I was wearing gloves on every single flight. I was sanitizing my hands constantly. I was washing my hands constantly. I was wearing a mask constantly and, in some occasions, goggles as well,” Hayat told Al Arabiya English in an exclusive interview.
Hayat has always been a self-described “germaphobe,” but despite taking several precautionary measures to protect herself from the virus, she tested positive for the novel coronavirus on March 13.
“Please learn from my example. No matter how many gloves you wear, the extent you go to to protect yourself. It really is just the moving around and interacting with other people, and accidentally touching surfaces, that will get you in the end,” she said.
After Kuwait had announced that it would be suspending all commercial flights indefinitely on March 11, Hayat jumped on a plane and flew via Geneva and Amsterdam to Kuwait.
Upon her arrival, officers at the Kuwait International Airport lined all the passengers up and took their temperatures. Hayat did not have a fever.
However, she asked the medical personnel to take a swab because she and other passengers on her flight had been to several different European countries, where the number of coronavirus cases was rapidly increasing.
“In less than 24 hours, two doctors showed up in my house [and] told me I confirmed positive,” she said.
Hayat is one of 191 cases of coronavirus in Kuwait.
Hayat recalled showing only mild symptoms in the days leading up to the test.
“I did show symptoms, but it was a very, very mild dry cough. [It was] completely absent in the daytime, [and] would surface sometimes in the night,” she told Al Arabiya English.
However, Hayat did feel “severe tiredness” in her muscles and a “headache” that she dismissed as jet lag.
Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19 and corona, can cause symptoms that range from a mild cough to a high fever and extreme fatigue, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Fevers should not be the only symptom doctors use to determine whether a person has coronavirus, Hayat said.
“One of my big problems right now is a lot of doctors are refusing to test for people who have other symptoms but don’t have a fever,” she said.
“I don’t know if we are an errant sample or what, but in my ward right here, out of 25 positive cases, 24 have had no record whatsoever of a fever.”
Living in quarantine
After her test results came back positive, Hayat was taken to Jaber Hospital in Hawaly governorate’s South Surra where dozens of coronavirus patients are currently being treated.
To keep herself busy, the 29 year old keeps herself entertained with books, working on upcoming projects for her brand, and updating her followers on her health on Instagram.
She has also been constantly facetiming her family and friends.
“I’m in touch with friends and family every single day via FaceTime and social media. They think my viral success in becoming the face of coronavirus in the [Arabian] Gulf is hilarious,” she said.
While Hayat has been unable to directly interact with any other patients, she also often video calls one of her friends who is also a patient at Jaber Hospital.
The luxury women’s footwear designer announced her diagnosis on the official Liudmila Instagram page on March 16.
She shared all the details leading up to finding out her results, and even gave a short tour of her hospital room.
“I was pleasantly surprised [by the hospital room], and actually by the level of comfort that we’re in right now,” she told Al Arabiya.
“I know a lof of countries are totally overloaded, hospitals are completely overloaded. And you have tons of beds right next to each other. People are getting treated in really quite depressing conditions.”
However, Hayat said, patients in Kuwait are “really fortunate” that hospitals in the country are fully equipped to monitor and treat patients.
In February, the World Health Organization (WHO) praised Kuwait for the measures the country is taking to prevent the coronavirus from spreading further.
Kuwait has since implemented a nation-wide curfew and extended the suspension of schools and universities until August in an effort to push people to stay home.
Anyone caught breaking the curfew will be jailed for up to three years and fined 10,000 Kuwaiti dinars ($32,000), Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister and Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs Anas al-Saleh said.
The curfew was enforced because Kuwaitis had not been complying with health guidelines to avoid large gatherings, al-Saleh added.