From ART kits to buying groceries online: Why seniors struggle with Covid-19 rules

Lions Befrienders staff member Mavis Chow helping Mr Tupai Warkim with a game on a digital tablet at the group's activity centre on Oct 8, 2021. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - When Mr Zeng, 63, finally got hold of someone on the phone line who was able to help, he was on day eight of an isolation order and had run out of food at home.

Crying over the phone, the senior who lives alone in the western part of Singapore told volunteers from social enterprise SG Assist he had been surviving on canned food for eight days.

By then, Mr Zeng, who works in cleaning services, no longer had any rations left.

Seniors like him face many challenges trying to abide by Covid-19 regulations, even as the Government has simplified the rules.

Latest guidelines announced by a multi-ministry task force last Saturday (Oct 9) said home recovery will be the default arrangement for everyone except partially or unvaccinated individuals aged 50 and above, vaccinated seniors aged 80 and above, and children four years and below.

Seniors who are at risk of developing severe illness can recover in Covid-19 treatment facilities which have the medical capabilities and resources including oxygen supplementation for patients in need.

Such seniors do not have to worry about keeping up with the changing criteria for the home recovery programme.

But they, like the rest of the population, will still need to use antigen rapid test (ART) kits which now form the bedrock of the Republic's Covid-19 strategy.

If they receive a message from the Ministry of Health (MOH) that they are a close contact of a confirmed case, they are required by law to test themselves with an ART kit and upload the results online.

Senior welfare organisations told The Straits Times many seniors do not even have a fixed mobile number registered with MOH, making it impossible for them to receive messages.

Ms Michelle Lau, co-founder of self-help group Kampung Kakis, said seniors may not have a fixed mobile line if they use pre-paid cards. This means their mobile numbers change when they change these cards, she said.

The 2020 IMDA Annual Survey on Infocomm Usage notes only 60 per cent of residents aged 75 and above use smart phones. Seniors are also less digitally savvy - not knowing how to use Telegram and where self-help groups, like the SG Quarantine Order Support Group, are based.

Some 16,000 members in the group discuss matters like what to do when they have been issued a quarantine order as a contact of a Covid-19 patient.

More than 50 volunteers also do grocery runs for those under quarantine and deliver cooked meals and antigen rapid test (ART) kits if they do not have them.

Ms Evonne Tan, 30, who heads the group's grocery runs initiative said since the group was formed two-and-a-half weeks ago, its members have completed 20 such runs.

The admin executive said: "We have several requests from people who have been quarantined and who can't deliver groceries to their elderly parents who live alone."

However, the group has not received requests from seniors directly.

To bridge the gap between seniors, SG Assist also has phone lines for seniors to seek help.

Such contact numbers can then be circulated among the elderly, who often hear of them through word of mouth or share them via WhatsApp.

Referring to Mr Zeng, SG Assist's co-founder, Adrian Tan, explained why such hotlines are necessary: "The senior can't take care of himself because he has no family support after his wife died. He doesn't know how to buy groceries online and was scared he would be fined if he left his flat."

Once SG Assist learns of such seniors, they will then make a request for volunteers to make grocery runs on the SG Assist mobile app.

The People's Association (PA) has also put up posters in Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC, so residents in need know they can receive ration packs and meals to be delivered by the community centres.

Over in Tampines North, volunteers have also been distributing care packs since last Sunday (Oct 3) to those under the home recovery programme or under quarantine.

Grassroots volunteer Edwin Tay (left) and PA staff member Koong Chee Yong delivering care packs to residents under the home recovery programme in Tampines North. PHOTO: ST FILE

It said as at Oct 6, 1,600 PA staff and volunteers have distributed 8,800 care packs to households with residents on the home recovery programme or QO. Residents who need additional assistance can also seek help from PA staff and volunteers.

Ms Fion Phua, founder of volunteer platform Keeping Hope Alive, has been going door-to-door to swab seniors living in rental Housing Board flats every Sunday and sharing more about vaccination.

Ms Phua said: "These seniors do not know how to use ART kits and don't have WiFi at home. Some still don't know you can walk into a community centre and get the Covid-19 vaccine."

Lions Befrienders, which serves 7,800 seniors, has also been training its seniors to use ART kits at its centres.

Its chairman, Mr Anthony Tay, said: "There is too much information right now. If you have someone who calls you regularly and can lend a listening ear, seniors feel safe to ask the questions they have."

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