Rachel, 70, and Vijay Sehgal, 78, are in self-quarantine after arriving back in Penticton from the Philippines on Sunday, March 15. (Phil McLachlan - Western News)

Elderly Penticton couple reflect on leaving Philippines, entering self-quarantine

Staying postitive the most important thing amid global pandemic, says 78-year-old

Turning the latch on their front door, Vijay and Rachel Sehgal started day one of two weeks away from society in self-quarantine.

On Sunday, March 15, the Penticton couple was in the Philippines, visiting family, but the continuously evolving situation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to come home earlier than expected.

Vijay, 78, and Rachel, 70, are two of many locking themselves away for at least 14 days or more in an attempt to avoid the virus or keep others safe.

They were two of about 370 passengers on board Philippine Airlines flight PR116 en route to Vancouver, aboard a Boeing 777-300ER. Vijay recalled the packed plane being filled mostly with the elderly.

They left the same day (March 15) news agencies around the world reported the Philippines government was closing off access to the densely populated capital city, imposing quarantine officials hope would curb that nation’s rising number of coronavirus cases.

READ MORE: 45 new COVID-19 cases in B.C., bringing total to 231

As they travelled on a 10-hour bus ride from Batad to Ninoy Aquino International Airport, the couple started to hear more news of the country being shut down.

“We were told this was (the) last bus going, after that, there were no more buses going,” said Vijay.

“I’ve never seen anything like that,” he added. “We were so worried about that. If international flights are not going, what are we going to do here for another month?”

However, when they arrived in Vancouver they were not welcomed by a wave of security officers and medical staff, or asked a long list of questions. To Vijay and Rachel’s surprise they walked off the plane and without interruption, simply proceeded to their next gate.

“It’s kind of very annoying, (we were) surprised that nobody even met you to see if we were sick or not,” said Vijay.

“The place you’re coming from, chances are you might be sick. That’s (airports) where it matters; Canadians returning home from Asia, the Middle East. They are very affected. This thing will affect sooner or later into Canada — maybe we have been so far lucky.”

On Tuesday, March 17, Vancouver International Airport said it was working to increase screening measures as it became one of just four Canadian airports able to accept international travellers.

Their next flight from Vancouver to Penticton was cancelled but after an extended layover, the couple eventually made it home to Penticton and admitted into self-quarantine.

Overall, the Sehgals are feeling well, both physically and mentally.

The couple stood in their back patio window for a photo, communicating with hand signals.

It’s on this back patio where their friends leave them groceries while they are in quarantine. Even with someone picking up groceries for them, the Seghals are finding it hard to get their regular shopping items.

As news of the virus spread, grocery shelves emptied at a rapid rate. Their friend managed to purchase a small bag of rice, one of the last left in the store and dropped it at their home.

If they didn’t have a friend delivering them groceries, Vijay doesn’t know what they would do.

“I honestly don’t know,” he said. “Just try to survive (with) whatever we have left over in the house.”

These next two weeks will be trying for Vijay, who suffers from chronic back pain. To relieve the pain the 78-year-old goes on many regular walks, but for the time being, he will have to make due walking around his home instead.

“Whether I like it or not, I do anyway,” he said.

In times like these, Vijay said taking it easy and distancing yourself from others are two of the best things you can do.

“It’s the best precaution you can take,” he said.

However, he stressed the most important thing, above all else, is to stay positive.

Vijay knows full well the power of positivity.

Ten years ago he survived a major cancer case and credits his mental fortitude, as well as his family’s love.

When others diagnosed with diseases ask him for advice, he simply said, “have faith in you.”

“If I did not stay positive, I would not be alive today,” he said. “Without being positive, you cannot achieve anything at all. Without that, you cannot survive.”

READ MORE: City of Penticton launches COVID-19 call centre

READ MORE: Okanagan College cancels face-to-face classes while transitioning to online education

READ MORE: Surgical masks pile up on Hong Kong beaches after COVID-19 outbreak

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