MIDLOTHIAN, Va. (WWBT) - What was supposed to be a routine trip to India turned into a nightmare for Paul Kochar. Kochar leaves the states for a month every year to attend a meditation retreat. Getting there was no problem, but getting back home during the COVID-19 pandemic proved near impossible.
“It’s a pretty large gathering that we attend, it’s a meditation retreat,” Kochar said. “The retreat got canceled and the entire county of India went under lockdown, all the international flights were canceled and some states went under curfew.”
To make matters worse, Kochar says he found out days later that the temporary caretaker he had arranged to care for his elderly parents who are both in there 90s abandoned his assignment early due to the pandemic, leaving his parents alone with no one to tend to their needs.
“I was trapped in India with no one to take care of my elderly parents. I’m their primary caretaker and with COVID lockdown, I didn’t want them to go out even for groceries or medicine or anything,” Kochar said. “I felt very unsafe and insecure being trapped there in India, my gut feeling was that I’m not in a secure place.”
Paul says he made a six-hour trip from Punjabi to Dehli where he contacted the U.S. Embassy and the state department by email in an attempt to find a way home, but his efforts yielded little results until he reached out to Abigail Spanberger’s office.
“One of the best resources was Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger’s office. Kristi Black who is her district coordinator sent me an email back within a couple of hours,” Kochar said. “Remember there’s a time difference of 10 hours between India and the U.S. and I got the email from her very detailed, long and personal email and she said ‘Mr. Kochar we are working on your case and we will find every way possible to bring you back home.‘”
After weeks of contact with Spanberger’s office, Kochar’s flight priority was moved up, but his return home in April wouldn’t be easy two days after landing he learned his children, who are both physicians on the frontlines in NewYork, contracted coronavirus.
“Fortunately in their case, their case was very mild, they had fevers of less than 100 and within 10 days they were able to return to their jobs,” Kochar said.
While Pauls’s story has a happy ending, Spanberger says the issue of Virginians being stuck abroad because of COVID-19 is widespread.
”We’ve handled over 45 individuals who needed assistance to some degree... in some cases, it was a watchful eye and in some cases, it was a real intervention,” said Spanberger. “Like in Paul’s case with India, there’s been other countries around the world where flights have been shut down and there are no flights out. It’s the state department that is chartering planes to repatriate Americans and getting that information to our constituents.”
Spanberger says that if you know someone who is having trouble getting back to the United States due to the coronavirus to contact her office at 804-401-4110 to help speed up their case.
“I just want to let people know whether it helps with traveling overseas, an issue with the Veteran Affairs, social security, or medicare, our office has a robust constituent services program and I welcome anybody who lives in central Virginia in our district to call,” Spanberger said.
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