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NPHET to consider guidance for people who live alone during 'no visitor' restrictions

Concerns have been raised about the effect of the latest Covid-19 restrictions on older people, single parents and those who live alone.

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Image: Shutterstock/Mostovyi Sergii Igorevich

Updated Oct 15th 2020, 8:35 PM

CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER Dr Tony Holohan has said that NPHET are to consider guidelines to help people who live alone during the current Level 3 restrictions, which mean people are advised not to have visitors at their house or garden. 

Looking at making “things as easy as possible, because we recognise” the challenges the new restrictions announced yesterday bring for those who live alone. 

The challenge of living alone for a long period of time is a very difficult challenge socially.

“So all of those things are things that we need to look at and say ‘Can we provide ways and means and guidance to be able to make that as easy and experience?’”

Holohan said that nobody wants to be in a situation where having to ask the public not to meet up with other households, and so NPHET want to make it as easy as possible for people to adhere to with additional guidance. 

In the wake of the new visitor restrictions announcement last night, concerns had been raised about the impact they would have on older people and those who live alone, with one senator branding a ban on visits “cruel”.

Campaigners and opposition politicians said the government should consider introducing so-called ‘support bubbles’ as a way to address the situation.

The UK and New Zealand have introduced bubbles for certain people such as those who live alone and single parents.

Essentially, people from two households who are in a support bubble can consider themselves as being in a single household even though they live in two different homes.

From midnight tonight, a nationwide ban on visitors to households is to come into effect. The restrictions, agreed by Cabinet yesterday, will remain in place until Tuesday, 10 November.

People are advised to not visit other households indoors or in their gardens, but exemptions will be made on compassionate grounds and essential reasons like caring or childcare.

Concerns have been raised about the impact the latest restrictions will have on people’s mental health, particularly those who live alone.

‘Blunt and cruel’

Speaking earlier, Labour Senator Rebecca Moynihan is among those to call on the government and the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) to consider introducing support bubbles.

“The announcement by the government yesterday evening that all household visits are to be banned, is unnecessarily blunt and cruel for those living alone,” Moynihan said.

“We all understand the need to bring down community transmission of the virus, but other countries have understood the impact that isolation has and have allowed people to create social bubbles.”

Moynihan called on the government to ensure Covid-19 restrictions are “reflective of the type of households that people live in”.

“Single-person and single-parent households shouldn’t be entirely cut off from any social contact or support during this crisis,” she said.

Social isolation and loneliness

A spokesperson for Alone, a national organisation which supports older people to live at home, said many older people were affected by safety measures such as cocooning in the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The spokesperson told TheJournal.ie Alone appreciates that public health guidelines have been put in place to slow the spread of the virus and save lives, but “older people are continually one of the groups who have been most negatively impacted by Covid-19 and the related health guidelines”.

They said the increased feeling of social isolation and loneliness is “prevalent more than ever” among young people, something that will likely worsen in the winter months.

“The cocooning measures had serious consequences on older people’s mental health, while also introducing new emotions being experienced such as heightened anxiety, stress and worry.”

The spokesperson added that the long-term mental health impacts of the restrictions “will continue to affect older people long after” the pandemic is over.

They said the principle idea of so-called support bubbles “seems like a viable solution to alleviate the issues already being experienced by older people that are inevitably going to increase over the next couple of months”.

Criteria 

However, they added there needs to be more investigation into the criteria of which type of households could form a bubble with an older person.

“The nominated household would need to ensure limited exposure to the virus and that they are a safe unit for the older person to trust,” the said.

A spokesperson for Age Action, another group that supports older people, said Ireland “will have to get creative to live with Covid-19″.

They called on the government “to talk to a much broader stakeholder group than they are currently” when devising restrictions.

“Older people are a diverse group whose voices have been largely absent from the decision-making table, but they know what they need and should be able to contribute to creative Covid-19 response measures such as the support-bubble model seen in the UK.”

The spokesperson added that any such measures would need to balance risk management with a person maintaining their independence and “combating the sort of social isolation that is being felt” by many people.

TheJournal.ie has contacted the Department of Health for comment.

What is a support bubble?

New Zealand was one of the first countries to introduce so-called support bubbles earlier this year, with the UK among others introducing them in recent months.

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The UK government describes a support bubble as “a close support network between a household with only one adult in the home (known as a single-adult household) and one other household of any size”.

People in a support bubble can consider themselves as being in a single household even though they live in two different homes.

One the support bubble is established, its members should not change.

A person should not be a member of more than one bubble, and the two households should ideally be nearby.

People should continue to social distance with people outside of the bubble.

In the UK, people who can make a support bubble include the following groups:

  • people who live alone – even if carers visit to provide support
  • single parents living with children under the age of 18
  • people who live with other adults, including if your carer or carers live with them

Updated by Gráinne Ní Aodha

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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