Gangtok: The iconic Glenary’s bakery and restaurant in Darjeeling has been converted into a COVID isolation centre with oxygen support. The restaurant has a generator back up, water, food and over 3500 square feet of space. The top floor is being used as an isolation centre, in collaboration with doctors from Planters Hospital. The Hospital is merely 100 meters away, so they are getting the doctors and nurses from there, with the admission or discharges and necessary medical requirement will be covered by the hospital.

Glenary’s, perhaps, is one of the most iconic locations in Darjeeling, as it has seen scores of people from across the world converging for food and now part of heritage emotion for many. But converting the thriving restaurant into a COVID isolation centre is quite a bold step by its owner Ajoy Edwards, who is a third-generation business tycoon from the Queen of Hills.

Edwards shared, “Glenary’s is 130 years old, it used to be called Pliva a long time ago. My family has handled the functioning of the restaurant for 60 years. I am the third generation to take over the business. My family has always been involved in social work. When Tuberculosis was prevalent, there was a lot of discrimination. When my grandmother had TB, my mother married into our family. There was a lot of stigmas around about her getting married into a family that had TB. My mother worked in TB awareness. Later, my wife Namrata worked for HIV AIDS awareness. Now, I am working towards COVID 19 awareness. The best way to counter the stigma for COVID is to have Darjeeling’s most iconic place as an isolation centre. Glenary’s is an isolation centre and the owners live in the same building, which is the best way to break the stigma.”

Away from the stigma, the ground reality of COVID-19 in the hills has also seen a rapid surge as part of the second wave. Add to that the recently concluded elections in West Bengal, it is considered one big reason for the spread of the virus.

But Edwards, who also contested as an independent candidate in the recent elections, stated, “Elections are long gone, next election is still 5 years away, it will be stupid on my part to campaign so early. Namrata my wife and I live in the same building. It took us 4 days to decide and be ready to convert our home and restaurant into an isolation centre. The main motivation here is even if we can save even one life, we have done enough. We are losing friends left, right and centre. This is a war; we have to make decisions as innovative and risky as this. If people don’t live, education, job and future doesn’t exist. We have to survive. Not just self-preservation but to help each other. Locals should come forth and fight the stigma, if it is happening in the neighbourhood, they can help. Citizens can come forth and help the government in helping them.”

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To put his initiative into action, Edwards and a few of his family and friends, as part of the Edwards foundation and Darjeeling Initiative will be providing oxygen cylinders and concentrators. He highlighted, “We have 20 beds and we will scale it up to 45, we will have an oxygen supply for them. Darjeeling is a difficult terrain with landslides frequenting, our refilling of oxygen cylinders happens in Siliguri. So, we are getting oxygen concentrators which many of our friends are also supporting. We are also looking for donors, we have also written to actor Sonu Sood, expecting a positive response. It will be completely free.”

Glenary’s kitchen will also be providing food to the isolated patients, while partner restaurants will be helping with the ingredients and rations. “We are asking only those staffs who have been vaccinated to work, as we have 50% vaccinated staffs to do the kitchen. The kitchen and isolation centre are on different floors. The top floor will be completely secluded and only the medical team will be allowed to go.”

Looking at the COVID surge and difficulties faced by the people in other cities, Edwards asserted, “We cannot sit here and say something like this will not happen in Sikkim and Darjeeling. We need to get at least 200 beds ready. When our people are going to Siliguri for COVID treatment, we hear horror stories where they don’t get beds. Or you pay Rs 1.5 lakh in advance just to get admission, our people cannot afford nursing homes. There is no cure for COVID but there is a cocktail of antibiotics and steroids to help. The Planters Hospital has treated and cured many patients. If our people stay in Darjeeling, they will have their family and friends close by, a lot of care can be provided. That is why we did this. We are also thinking of adding other places which can have 200-300 beds. We don’t want a situation where people are on the streets, gasping for air, we are getting ready for the worst. Even if it does come, we will be at least ready.”

Support for Edwards’ initiative is already in action. “We got two oxygen cylinders from someone whose mother had recently died. He had bought two cylinders for his mother. Yesterday he came and gave us two oxygen cylinders. We have been getting phone calls from all over who want to help.”

The Glenary’s COVID Isolation Centre starts on Wednesday, following a government approval on Tuesday.

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