Meet the 17-member Indian family that lived together, ate together and survived coronavirus together

For the Garg's, living together may have been a source of vulnerability, but at the same time, a reservoir of strength.


India-When Mukul Garg learned that one member of his family had tested positive for the coronavirus; he instantly knew it was only the beginning.

Mukul Garg’s extended family members had stayed inside for weeks during the nationwide lockdown. They were 17 people in total, ranging in age from 3 months to 90 years.

In a few days, 11 members of the Garg family tested positive for the disease. Mukul’s 90-year-old bedridden grandfather, 87-year-old grandmother, and 62-year-old father, who has diabetes and high blood pressure, were among them.

Unpredictability of COVID-19

The Garg family’s story is a clear illustration of the unpredictability of the virus. Some people have no symptoms, while others become severely ill. Scientists are examining whether genetic factors, including blood types, play a role in a person’s susceptibility to the disease.

For the Garg’s, living together may have been a source of vulnerability, but at the same time, a reservoir of strength. Three brothers and their families, along with their parents, have had what is known here as a “joint family” system for decades.

The family was hyper-vigilant in taking precautions against the novel coronavirus. They stayed inside their house. Only one member of the family at a time went for grocery shopping. They developed a routine for sanitizing the person who did the shopping that involved spritzing “every visible body part” with a disinfectant, said Mukul.

First case in the family

In late April, one of Mukul’s uncles started feeling sick and feverish. Initially, the family thought it was a common flu. After a few days, his aunt Anita fell ill, too. Then Mukul’s parents developed fevers, as did his grandmother.

“We were positive that because we had been cautious, coronavirus could not happen to us,” said Mukul’s mother, Meena Devi. “But within days, one by one, everyone came down with a fever.”

After five days of fever, Anita started to have difficulty in breathing. She was tested for COVID-19, and the next day the result came back positive. “It all came crashing down after that,” said Mukul.

Anita would prove to be the most critical case in the family. After her health worsened, she was admitted to a private hospital.

However, the virus also behaved unpredictably. Mukul’s 90-year-old grandfather, Shyamlal, tested positive but showed no symptoms at all. His 87-year-old grandmother, Beena, had a fever that persisted for a month, together with a cough and headache. Still, her condition never deteriorated to the point they felt she should be hospitalized.

Mukul was a trained doctor before completing an MBA and joining his father’s plastic-packaging business. He and the younger adults helped coordinate the care of his relatives, giving cough syrup, and vitamin supplements.

Plain lucky

The family was fortunate enough to have the financial resources to help them through the illness, said Mukul.

How the family became contaminated in the first place remains a mystery. At the time they became sick, there were no other cases in the area.

After they all had tested negative in early June, the family finally reunited over dinner, their first time together in weeks.

“It is not a simple infection to defeat,” Mukul said. “We were just plain lucky.”

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