Cardinal Vincent Nichols has led calls to protect the elderly amid the deadly coronavirus pandemic, calling them ‘our treasure who enrich our lives and our wisdom’.
In a letter to the priests and people of the Diocese of Westminster, the cardinal urged them to ‘have a special concern for the elderly’.
‘After all,’ he continued, ‘the elderly are our treasure who enrich our lives and our wisdom. We must do all we can always to nurture and protect them, but especially at this time of extraordinary challenge. Perhaps there is a ministry of the telephone to be deployed here.’
Cardinal Nichols also had a special message for priests, in which he pointed out how many of them are in the ‘more vulnerable age group’ and ‘should exercise every care in our daily routines’. He explained that such care would include remembering to wash hands regularly, especially on every occasion of returning into the presbytery.
‘Please do look after yourselves, ensuring you get enough rest and eating properly,’ the cardinal wrote.
‘We all know that the fight against this virus will be a long haul. Please don’t take too much to heart the anxiety that is felt by many, but rather embrace the reassurance that in this communal effort, we are being guided by the best possible advice.
‘And please let us pray for each other, and for those who are caring for the sick and those searching hard to develop a treatment and a vaccine for this illness.’
The cardinal’s call was echoed in Ireland by the Bishop of Raphoe, Alan McGuckian, who urged the faithful to follow in Christ’s footsteps.
“We remember that the Lord will never abandon his people,” he said. “It will be important that we look out for each other and especially the most vulnerable. We remember people who may need support; maybe someone to do the shopping for them. A phone call could make a huge difference to someone who feels the need to be in isolation for their own protection.”
Meanwhile, the Diocese of Ferns released a statement urging people to ensure vulnerable people are at the forefront of concern.
‘In our hour of trial Jesus calls on us, his followers, to serve the common good by taking responsibility for each other and to prioritise the most vulnerable in our community ahead of our own individual wants and aspirations. At this time our first concern has to be for the elderly, the ill and those with underlying medical conditions,’ the diocese said.
The Church leaders’ calls come as people aged over 70 are preparing to self-isolate for up to four months, in order to protect themselves from Covid-19.
Professor William Keevil, professor of Environmental Healthcare at University of Southampton, has advised the public to avoid visiting vulnerable people unless they are absolutely convinced that their own health and hygiene is good enough.
He instead suggested staying in touch with them by telephone or Skype to prevent loneliness or depression, and to ensure they have the food and medication they need.
“As of now, avoid visiting vulnerable people (very old or with serious heart disease and other morbidities, eg: diabetes) unless you are absolutely convinced about your health (no coughs or fever) and personal hygiene (washed hands, clean clothes and shoes, etc) being good enough; wash your hands immediately on arrival and avoid touching the person and your own face during the visit,” said Prof. Keevil.
He said people should remember to remove coats with care before washing their hands as outer garments might be contaminated.
The professor added: “The longer the stay the greater the potential risk to your host. Importantly, stay in contact with them by telephone, Skype etc to avoid them becoming lonely or depressed; perhaps treat them to a simple iPad type of device or similar and show them how to use it for Facetime or Skype visual calls with you.
“Make sure they are feeling well and receiving food and any medication they usually take.”
He also advised that if the person receives regular visits from support workers, it should be ensured that they are able to continue attending regularly or if the health visitors become ill then someone will need to be prepared to bring the food and medicines themself. He said these can be left on the doorstep.
The advice comes as thousands of Britons have joined local Facebook groups offering food and support for elderly and vulnerable people during the coronavirus outbreak.
The groups, named Covid-19 Mutual Aid, have been set up in most London boroughs, cities including Manchester, Newcastle and Birmingham, as well as smaller towns throughout the UK.
Some groups have received several thousand members in recent days as more and more people self-isolate to prevent the spread of the virus.
In one group, users shared a printable postcard which could be dropped in to neighbours’ letterboxes, with offers to pick up shopping, post mail or even just join them for a ‘friendly phone call’.
The National Food Service (NFS), an organisation aimed at tackling food insecurity, is now stepping in to offer the volunteers safeguarding training to help with issues such as data protection.
Meanwhile, some supermarkets and banks have made special arrangements for elderly and vulnerable customers to gain exclusive early access to food and services immediately after stores have been deep-cleaned.
Iceland is arranging for stores to keep the first two hours of Wednesday morning free for the elderly and vulnerable only, while Nationwide Building Society said 100 of its branches across the UK would open an hour early – at 8am instead of 9am – from Monday to Friday for customers over the age of 70 and those with underlying health conditions. It said if this move proved to be successful, it would consider extending it to other branches across its 650-branch network.
Meanwhile, dedicated shopping sessions for elderly people have been introduced at Lidl in Northern Ireland. They will run from 9am to 11am every day and include prioritised queuing and additional assistance.
Picture: Shoppers this morning waiting for the branch of Iceland in the Kennedy Centre, Belfast, to specially open an hour earlier at 8am to allow elderly people the opportunity to shop freely. (Liam McBurney/PA).