The fight against COVID-19 in the Cypriot community

SHENİZ RAİF (LONDON) – I recently read a research paper about the impact of Vitamin D deficiency on the mortality rate of Covid-19 sufferers. 

This research indicated that those with Vitamin D deficiency had worse outcomes when they caught the virus. 

The research looked at the higher mortality rates in Spain and Italy (who have high levels of Vitamin D deficiency) and drew preliminary conclusions that Vitamin D deficiency could play a part in the severity of the illness because of it’s impact on the immune system and cytokine storming. 

Therefore, I think it would be wise to advise the Cypriot community especially those who have been diagnosed with a Vitamin D deficiency or those who are key workers, or on the front lines, to make sure they are taking a D3 supplement (unless you have a medical reason not to).

I know so many in our community are Vitamin D deficient. The ones in London you can understand (we all blame the fact that we still haven’t acclimatised to the rubbish English weather – even if we were born here)! Oddly though, the deficiency is also prevalent in Cypriots who live in Cyprus too – which is strange when you think about how much beautiful sunshine the island is bathed in all year round, so it must be a genetic thing! Every second person I’ve spoken to about this research has said “oh I’m deficient too” so I know there’s lots of us out there!

It has made me think that the research about Vitamin D is important to share, even though it’s just preliminary findings, Vitamin D is well established as having a positive impact on the immune system. It’s not a cure for the virus, it’s not a revelation, it’s not going to stop anyone getting COVID-19 if they are exposed, we still have to be so very careful, but it might help a bit. If it saves one person’s grandmother, helps a father or a mother suffer a little bit less organ damage, meaning they get a few more years with their families, then for me there is no doubt that it’s worth telling people about it. 

My heart aches, tears stream from my eyes every single day. It’s like someone has placed a slab of stone across my chest. Sometimes I feel like I can’t breath and I don’t know where to put all my sadness. I open my social media accounts with the fear that I am going to see another Cypriot face, along with the news that COVID-19 has taken another one of us.
I want to scream at it, no more. Stop. Stop taking our people. Leave our grandparents, mothers, fathers, children, sisters, brothers, lovers, friends, alone! We don’t deserve to die, no one deserves to die like this, suffering and alone, gasping for air, drowning without water. But the virus cannot hear me scream. It cannot hear any of our screams, it cannot hear us as we grieve for those that we have loved and lost.  

Burials taking place without mourners, people who would have been there in their hundreds watch online as the bodies of their friends or family go on their final journey. Unable to say a proper farewell, we watch behind our screens, but this feels so cruel and cold, so distant. To lose someone and not be able to visit their family, to get together to say our prayers, to lend a hug to those cloaked in the melancholy of loss. It’s not right, but it’s the way it has to be.

I have seen so many beautiful souls taken, so many warriors who beat fascists, dictators and oppression, friends of my father, Hasan Raif, who all campaigned for peace in Cyprus. They came to London for a better life and made London a better life for all those in the community that followed them. If my father were still alive, it would be killing him to see this happening to his community.

I can hear his voice, hear it choking, as we would have talked about those who have fallen victim to it, while he tried to put on a brave face. He was taken from us too soon, I would’ve given anything for a few more years with him, to have him meet my son, his first grandchild, but for one thing I am glad, that he didn’t have to suffer through this. I can see his sorrowful face in my mind’s eye, he would be devastated and he’d want me to do what I can to help. 

That’s one of the reasons I feel compelled to write this article, I wish I could cast a protective spell over all of us, put magical arms around you all and keep you safe from this horrific disease, but I can’t. I can tell you what I know though and what I’ve read and I can implore you, so please, please don’t underestimate this horrific disease. 

It doesn’t just kill the old and those who are ill. It is ruthless, merciless and brutal. Just yesterday I read about another study which looked into the way in which it attacked the heart, liver, kidneys and even the brain. Nowhere in your body is safe. And there is much they still don’t know about the damage it does.

Social distancing is hard for us as a people because community, family, friendship is everything to us. We are not used to being alone and not having multiple people to take the piss out of and crack jokes with! It’s how we go about our days. But it is so important for us to stay home, stay away from our nearest and dearest until this surreal dystopia has past. We must be careful when we go to get our essentials, desperate to socialise a little, we can slip into old habits if we bump into our friends or family at the supermarket, talk like old times, I’m not saying don’t say hello, but I beg you to be careful, stay a safe distance (we all talk loud enough), be mindful of what you touch, don’t be lulled into letting your guard down. If you feel rundown, or poorly with something else, don’t even go out to exercise and get someone else to pick up your essentials – when you are rundown, your immune system is weaker and could make you more at risk of catching the virus.   

Be the strong one if people you love want to see you. None of us want to be rude, tell our elders not to visit, that’s another thing that just isn’t in our upbringing or our culture, but this is not being rude. This is what will save our lives. Don’t let the beautiful parts of our amazing culture, the love of family, of friendship, of togetherness, be our undoing. When this horrible virus has left us, when we have a vaccine or a more effective treatment, we can make sure that we bring all of those wonderful, positive things that are a part of us, into the world that comes out of the other side. 

It’s not just about Cypriots either, this goes for all close knit communities Greek, Turkish, Spanish, Italian, there are too many to name.

My heart aches for every soul lost to this vicious disease and there is another family I must mention, our NHS family. I have many loved ones who are doctors, nurses, dieticians, care workers, therapists, paramedics, the people who are on the front lines. I keep seeing the meme about the fact that our grandparents went to war, we are being asked to sit on our bums and watch Netflix and we need not to mess this up.  It has a point, but it is not strictly true. We are in a war against this virus, but it is the NHS that are our soldiers. They are the ones putting themselves in danger to save us. They have been flamboyantly failed each step of the way by a callous and uncaring Government that has underfunded them for years and botched the headstart we had to get ahead of this thing by opting for a ridiculous herd immunity strategy.  And don’t even get me started on the failure to provide enough adequate PPE putting them in an even more perilous position than they need to be. 

I lie awake at night, consumed with a burning rage at how these heroes have been so badly let down. You could say that they are lions led by donkeys, but that would be an insult to donkeys. 

 The NHS are begging us to stay home and we must heed there advice before this tragedy gets any worse. We need to take care of ourselves and listen for their sakes too, so that they can go back to their families and their loved ones. Too many of them have already been lost, such brave people who gave the ultimate sacrifice to save others. 

But who am I, to tell you what to do?

I am nobody.

But I am also the voice of everybody who cares, the voice of everybody who has lost a loved one to this evil and relentless virus, everybody who wants to protect their loved ones, everybody who does not want to see any more dead faces of our Cypriot kin every time they pick up their phones.

I am a mother who loves her son and wants nothing more than to protect him and make sure he grows up in a world that is filled with his loved ones. People he can hear stories of the past from, listen to and learn from. That’s the future I see for him. That is the future I want to keep. 

Enough is enough. We have already lost too many, it is already too great a price to pay. May they all Rest in Peace. 

Stay safe and well my brothers and sisters.

By Sheniz Raif


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