Steven Hancock, left, and partner Ann Williams from Sudbury had been left stranded in India when the coronavirus pandemic struck. Picture: STEVEN HANCOCK/ANN WILLIAMS
A Sudbury couple stranded in India for more than a month after contracting coronavirus abroad are finally expected to return to the UK on Thursday.
Steven Hancock, 60, and 61-year-old partner, Ann Williams, were part of a 19-strong party visiting Kerala when one of the party tested positive for Covid-19 and forced the group into quarantine in early March.
Mr Hancock was later found to have tested positive, and taken to the Government Medical College Hospital in Kalamessary, Kochi, but left in poor conditions – blood-stained walls, unclean toilets, thick dust, scant bedding and surviving off meagre rations.
Ms Williams then tested positive, but a week after family members raised their plight with the EADT the couple were moved to a private healthcare facility thanks to lobbying by the tour operator, Mercury Travel, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and South Suffolk MP James Cartlidge.
Ms Williams’ son John Roach today confirmed the couple, following treatment, had finally tested negative at the beginning of last week, and boarded a flight organised by the British government today.
Steven Hancock, left, and partner Ann Williams from Sudbury have been left stranded in an Indian hospital in squalid conditions. PIcture: STEVEN HANCOCK/ANN WILLIAMS
They are due to touch down on UK soil on Thursday morning.
Mr Roach said: “We are so relieved. We were worried that flights weren’t going to be as plentiful as necessary but they have managed to get out on the first flight out.”
Since both testing negative, the couple have been in a hotel in Kerala, where the Indian government said they should remain for 14 days before returning home. However, the FCO has secured them permission to return home before those 14 days are up.
Family members of the couple said communication had been limited from the FCO initially, but improved following an intervention by Mr Cartlidge and the media.
South Suffolk MP James Cartlidge has been instrumental in helping Steven Hancock and Ann Williams return home to Sudbury from India. Picture: OFFICE OF JAMES CARTLIDGE
Mr Roach also praised the efforts of Mercury Travel chiefs who offered to pay for private healthcare and had been liaising with the FCO.
He added that their point of contact at the FCO had been “doing the best she could but we have all had our eyes opened about how limited their resources and influence are”.
Mr Cartlidge said: “I am delighted that Steven and Ann are confirmed on the charter flight arriving in the UK on Thursday morning.
“My team and I have been in regular contact with their families in the UK, the travel company and the Foreign Office.
“I discussed their case at length with the Foreign Secretary and the Minister responsible for South Asia, Lord Ahmed, and requested that due to their previous hospitalisation, the couple were given priority on any charter flights scheduled from Kerala.
“We have been dealing with constituents stuck around the world and have recently seen a good number successfully returned to the UK.
“I am pleased that this progress is underway but appreciate that there will still be others who need help returning. I would encourage them, or their families, to get in touch with me directly on firstname.lastname@example.org.
“In the meantime, the case of Steven and Ann was particularly concerning and I am very pleased to have received the great news that they will be on their way home soon.”
Published by the East Anglian Daily Times.