The Middle East was hit hard after Southeast Asia, especially Iran, and then Turkey.
Turkey’s government managed to stem a surging rate of infection, but the disease did not go away, and continued to take lives.
“I felt so helpless as I let go of him,” Fatih Özçelik told Sky News as he choked back tears.
A chemistry engineer for Turkey’s Ministry of Health, Fatih helped build the first COVID-19 testing lab in Turkey, but failed to save his father despite all his efforts and access.
Kemal Özçelik, 66, and his wife, Dudu, 62, diligently followed the pandemic quarantine for the elderly for five months.
When Turkey’s restrictions eased in June, the couple picked up a half-normalised routine, meeting their three sons and six grandchildren outside.
“He had one playtime with my son, that one day in August,” Fatih said.
“He was so happy, so content, feeling alive again.”
Then came fatigue and muscle pain. Soon, after a lung scan by a third doctor who ignored a negative COVID test, his diagnosis was confirmed.
Favipiravir, an antiviral drug Turkey prioritised in its COVID response but one the world was cautious about, failed to work as well as hoped.
A day after Kemal was placed in intensive care, Dudu also started to show symptoms. She was unaware of how severe her husband’s condition had become, thinking he was recovering at the hospital where their grandson had been born eight months earlier.
“I didn’t have the courage to tell mum, and feared news would worsen her situation,” Fatih said.
“We buried him in a blink of an eye under heavy restrictions, I could not comfort him, be there for him and my mother didn’t even know.”
Dudu responded well to the Favipiravir treatment. The moment she was discharged, she quietly demanded a visit to the graveyard.
Fatih overheard her, whispering in despair: “How could you leave me alone, my love? What am I supposed to do now?”