Kike Mateu is a familiar face for football fans in Spain. He's a contributor on El Chiringuito de Jugones, the country's most popular nightly TV football show. But he's become even more well-known since contracting the coronavirus (COVID-19) while in Milan to report on the UEFA Champions League game between Atalanta and Valencia on February 19.
Mateu's trip to northern Italy for the match was like any other he has taken as part of his regular beat covering Valencia. He got on a flight from Valencia to Pisa, rented a car and drove three hours north to Milan for the match being played in the historic 80,000-seater San Siro Stadium.
Atalanta, who are playing in their first UEFA Champions League campaign, raced into a four-goal lead before Valencia's substitute, Denis Cheryshev, scored a consolation goal midway through the second half.
The 31-year-old, who was part of a travelling crew of Spanish journalists, carried on as he normally would, attending the game's press conference and dropping down to the mixed zone after the final whistle to interview some players. There had been just three confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Italy at the time of the game.
Once he'd finished his reports for the game, he jumped back in his rental car, sleeping overnight in a small town outside Milan. He flew back to Valencia the next day, a Thursday. The weekend passed without incident, except for another heavy Valencia defeat—this time a 3-0 loss to Real Sociedad in La Liga.
That Monday afternoon, however, Mateu began noticing the first symptoms of a flu-like virus, including fatigue and a dry cough. When he woke up on Tuesday morning, he felt slightly worse. With more cases having been confirmed in Northern Italy at that time, he decided to get checked out.
"I started to feel bad but nothing serious," says Mateu. "The typical symptoms when you have a cold—that you have your nose a little blocked and you generally feel a bit poorly."
"Just because I was in Milan, I thought it would be important to confirm that I did or didn't have the coronavirus instead of keeping on going, and going to work, as if nothing was happening, as normally I would do."
When Mateu phoned a 112 emergency line number to report his condition, he was told a medical unit would call out to test him. It never came. As he was still in limbo, and out of a sense of civic duty, he self-isolated for the rest of the day, along with his wife and their son, who stayed home from school.
On Wednesday morning, he phoned the emergency line again, stressing to the person on the other end that he had been in Milan. He was told their services were straining to cope with the number of calls they were receiving and that the medical unit would call out to him the next day, Thursday.
Faced with another 24-delay, Mateu decided to take action himself, going first to a private healthcare clinic (which wasn't equipped to test for the coronavirus) before eventually arriving at Valencia's University Hospital Clinic.
He was tested, and at 4:30 a.m. the following morning, Thursday, 27 February, he was confirmed as having the coronavirus. To alert others, he diligently sent messages to those he remembered being in contact with after his return from Milan a week earlier. He's been in isolation since his diagnosis.
"I am completely isolated," he said during a phone interview with B/R last Friday. "The people who are infected have to be totally isolated from other people. I suppose there might be other people with the coronavirus in the hospital here, but I don't know. I'm in lockdown. I have no information about what happens outside.
"I can't see anyone. Nobody can visit me, and I've been like this for nine days so far. What I feel above all is really bored. I have books to read, a tablet, and I can watch television, but after a while you just want to do something else—go out onto the street, go for a walk, go to the beach, breathe in some fresh air. I really miss all these things. Being isolated, if you don't feel bad or if you don't have symptoms, as I don't have any now, what you want is permission to go home.
"There are three or four doctors who treat me. Every day, they come to visit me—to see how I'm getting on, to explain to me exactly all the medical tests they are doing to me. The way I am now, they only come once a day—to confirm if I'm OK, and I don't see them again until the next day.
Mateu was the first to be diagnosed with COVID-19 in the province of Valencia. His background in the media and his willingness to speak about his experience both make him a notable voice in the coverage of the virus.
One of the things Mateu did once he became clinically isolated was to release a video on the Las Provincias website, describing his symptoms and the course of rest and treatment he'd been following. Salvador Illa, Spain's minister of health, applauded the public service broadcast.
Paracetamol (also known as acetaminophen) is the only medication Mateu has taken while in clinical isolation. He's in waiting mode. He doesn't know when he will be released.
"I would love to know, but nobody knows how long I will have to be here," he says (public health experts have been recommending a 14-day quarantine period)."When it's over, and after some time passes, I will remember it, sitting with my friends, having a beer, and I will laugh at the bad luck I had in getting infected.
"In the meantime, I want to send the message from here that people out there who might get it should stay calm—that it's a very mild illness, and that you can recuperate without any problems.
"I don't have fever. I'm not sneezing. I don't have any general discomfort. I feel good. The only thing I have is a dry cough—I had it from practically the first day. Before it was constant, but now I only have it once in a while.
Mateu understands however, that while his discomfort has been mild, symptoms can be much more serious and complicated for the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.
In a statement released last Saturday after the 100,000th worldwide case of COVID-19 was confirmed, the World Health Organization reiterated that, "Every effort to contain the virus and slow the spread saves lives."
"We must stop, contain, control, delay and reduce the impact of this virus at every opportunity. Every person has the capacity to contribute, to protect themselves, to protect others, whether in the home, the community, the healthcare system, the workplace or the transport system," the statement added.
On Tuesday, Mateu will watch Valencia's return leg against Atalanta on television, just like Valencia's football fans, as the game will be played behind closed doors at the Mestalla Stadium, following confirmation by UEFA. The move is a precautionary measure against the spread of COVID-19.
And it's in keeping with several global initiatives around sporting fixtures and matchday practices. These include, for example, a ban by UEFA on pre-match handshakes between players and officials. And there is some nervousness around the hosting of the Euro 2020 championships later in the summer. Serie A games have been suspended until April 3. La Liga in Spain is monitoring the situation.
And it's in keeping with several global initiatives around sporting fixtures and matchday practices. These include, for example, a ban by UEFA on pre-match handshakes between players and officials. And there is some nervousness around the hosting of the Euro 2020 championships later in the summer. Serie A games have been suspended until April 3. On Tuesday, La Liga in Spain also announced that its games will be played behind closed doors for at least the next two weeks.
“The La Liga measures follow the decision by the Spanish High Council of sports today that all competitions and sporting events in Spain, professional and non-professional, state and international level must be held behind closed doors. Public health is paramount,” says Joris Evers, La Liga's chief communications officer.
To learn more about the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, visit the World Health Organization website.
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