Elderly encouraged to have a self-isolation buddy to get through lockdown

On the first day of a nationwide lockdown, there’s relief that those living alone are allowed one ‘buddy’ to help them through the tough times ahead.

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Hundreds of thousands of elderly Kiwis currently live alone. Source: 1 NEWS

According to the last census more than 400,000 New Zealanders live alone, and Grey Power says many of those people are elderly.

While Kiwis are being encouraged to stay inside as much as possible, those who “are totally isolated” are allowed to have one buddy, according to the Prime Minister.

During her daily address on Tuesday, Jacinda Ardern said “if you are completely isolated, if you live alone but you have one person you have contact with it needs to be just that, a person you stay faithful to and they stay faithful to you in turn".

There are conditions, a ‘buddy’ can't be 70 years or older or unwell, and they can't mix with anyone else outside of their household.

“It is critical that buddy cannot have contacts other than their own household,” Education Secretary Iona Holsted said on Tuesday.

“You will become one group, but it should be a tight group, the smaller the better.”

Grey Power’s National President Mac Welch said that would come as a relief to many older Kiwis living alone.

“We have a lot of elderly people who live on their own particularly in remote locations and it's a worry. They’ve got to have some contact, don't they? They need someone that can keep an eye on them, they need someone that can fetch and carry for them, deliver medicines and groceries.”

For Wellington teacher Godfrey Geismar, this week is the first time he’s had off from school in 53 years of teaching, and he misses his students. He says the only school hours he’s ever missed was when he skipped kindy in 1948 during the polio epidemic.

“I’m going to miss school, especially contact with all the people there, they are great staff and a good school to work for, I’m going to be a bit lonely for a while.”

Mr Geismar says he his wife for company, but because she’s got chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, he’s got to be extra careful, and he’s worried about friends who live alone.

“We're a bit concerned, we've got friends, women who are living by themselves and it's quite a big strain on them.”

Although delivery of prepared foods is banned under the lockdown in most circumstances, the Red Cross says its meals on wheels service will still be going ahead, albeit with a few changes.

Red Cross spokesperson Shaun Greaves says the organisation has had plenty of offers of help from Kiwis wanting to volunteer and that the focus is on keeping volunteers and meal recipients safe.

“All our volunteers will be following the specific guidelines from the Ministry of Health including on handwashing, not touching their face before washing their hands, physical distancing and respiratory etiquette. They will be making sure the person they are dropping off to knows their meal has arrived and leaving the meal on the doorstep.”

He says volunteers will be able to stop and have a chat, but only from 2 metres away.

“Because we know that people may be feeling particularly isolated at this time, we’ve said that volunteers can stop for a chat and check-in if they feel safe and comfortable, but that they keep a distance of a minimum distance of two metres at all times. They have been asked not to enter the house at any point.”

The Prime Minister says mental health will be a concern as the nation faces four weeks of being indoors, and that she’s looking into how to bolster mental health support.

“I'm interested in thinking about how we can utilise other government call centres and networks to deal with what will actually be for many that feeling of isolation and lack of contact.”

Mr Geismar says it’s important to remember that staying home doesn’t mean no social life.

“It's a matter of knowing how to Skype or even a phone call. Keep in touch, every day if necessary.”