Oldest Singapore Covid-19 survivor sees son at last

102-year-old feasts on durian when son visits after 3 months, as curbs at nursing home ease

Madam Yap Lay Hong with her second son Alan Ho last Thursday at a designated outdoor area at Lee Ah Mooi Old Age Home, away from other residents.
Madam Yap Lay Hong with her second son Alan Ho last Thursday at a designated outdoor area at Lee Ah Mooi Old Age Home, away from other residents.PHOTO: ALAN HO

When Madam Yap Lay Hong, 102, was wheeled out of her room at the nursing home last Thursday, she saw her second son Alan Ho from a distance.

She called out "Ah Beng" and welcomed him with a big smile.

The centenarian who lives in Lee Ah Mooi Old Age Home is Singapore's oldest coronavirus survivor.

The reunion with her 73-year-old son was made possible after Singapore entered phase two of its reopening on June 19.

They had not seen each other for almost three months since Madam Yap was diagnosed with Covid-19 on April 1.

She spent about a month in Tan Tock Seng Hospital and was discharged on May 1.

"I brought her durians. My wife had helped to remove the seeds and packed just the flesh for her.

"She loves durians and I started feeding her right away," Mr Ho told The Straits Times during his visit.

"She was very chatty and was grumbling to me about her hospital stay. She said it was stressful as she had to go through many tests and she could not leave her bed.

"She also complained to me about how the nurses at the home bathe her. My mother is very independent and she likes to bathe herself.

"Her mind is still very alert. She's physically and mentally well.

"The more she complains, the more I am sure she is back to her pre-Covid days," Mr Ho added with a laugh.

On a video call with The Straits Times last Thursday, a cheerful Madam Yap said in Hokkien: "I am very well. Thank you."

Before the pandemic, Mr Ho visited Madam Yap faithfully every week and would give her durians.

If he could not find the fruit, he would get her durian puffs.

He recalled the day he received a call from the hospital with news of her coronavirus infection at 1am, less than 48 hours after visiting her on March 30.

His mother was among 16 residents and staff at the nursing home who caught the virus in April - a cluster that led to a ban on visitors to all nursing and old folks' homes in the same month.

Three Lee Ah Mooi residents died of Covid-19.

Nearly one in six seniors diagnosed with Covid-19 in Singapore developed severe symptoms and needed intensive care in hospital.

Even after Madam Yap was discharged from hospital and returned to the home on May 1, Mr Ho was not allowed to visit her due to strict curbs.

Twice, the retired office manager went to the home in Thomson Lane, hoping for a glimpse of his mother, but was stopped at the gate, he said.

Visitors are now allowed at nursing homes, with restrictions in place based on guidelines from the authorities.

Currently, Lee Ah Mooi caps visits to 10 residents per day and each visit is limited to 30 minutes.

Visitors are not allowed to enter the residents' rooms, said Mr Ho, who spent time with his mother at a designated outdoor area, away from other residents.

Madam Yap, who has five children, 11 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren, has not seen the rest of her family due to the curbs.

The home's administrator Then Kim Yuan told The Straits Times: "It has been a wonderful week of reunion for most of our residents and their families, while ensuring the safety of everyone.

"Although the current policy means shorter visitation hours and a limited number of visitors per day, the happiness and laughter that fill the home keep us optimistic and hopeful that we will continue to overcome this together."

Mr Then said the home continues to organise bingo games and karaoke and exercise sessions to keep residents happy.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2020, with the headline 'Oldest S'pore Covid-19 survivor sees son at last'. Subscribe