SINGAPORE – When Mr. Zeng, 63, finally reached someone on the phone line who could help him, he was on an isolation warrant on day eight and had no food at home.
The senior, who lives alone in western Singapore, cried on the phone and told SG Assist volunteers that he had survived on canned food for eight days.
At that point, Mr. Zeng, who works in the cleaning service, was running out of rations.
Seniors like him face many challenges trying to comply with Covid-19 regulations, even after the government has simplified the rules.
Latest guidelines, announced last Saturday (October 9th) by a multi-ministerial task force, said that home restoration will be the standard regime for everyone except partially or unvaccinated people aged 50 and over, vaccinated seniors aged 80 and over and children under four years of age.
Seniors at risk of serious illness can recover in Covid-19 treatment facilities that have the medical skills and resources, including oxygen supplementation for patients in need.
Such seniors don’t have to worry about keeping up with the changing criteria for the home recovery program.
But, like the rest of the population, they will continue to have to use rapid antigen test kits (ART), which are now the foundation of the republic’s Covid-19 strategy.
If you receive a message from the Ministry of Health (MOH) that you are in close contact with a confirmed case, you are legally obliged to test yourself with an ART kit and upload the results online.
Senior welfare organizations told the Straits Times that many seniors don’t even have a fixed cell phone number registered with MOH, making it impossible for them to receive messages.
Ms. Michelle Lau, co-founder of the Kampung Kakis support group, said seniors may not have a landline if they use prepaid cards. This means that if they change those cards, their cell phone numbers will change, she said.
The annual IMDA survey on Infocomm usage 2020 found that only 60 percent of residents aged 75 and over use smartphones. Seniors are also less digitally savvy – they don’t know how to use Telegram and where support groups like the SG Quarantine Order Support Group are based.
Around 16,000 members of the group are discussing, for example, what to do if they have been given a quarantine ordinance as a contact person for a Covid 19 patient.
More than 50 volunteers also run grocery stores for those who are under quarantine and deliver cooked meals and rapid antigen test kits (ART) when they don’t have them.
Ms. Evonne Tan, 30, who leads the group’s food run initiative, said its members have completed 20 such runs since the group’s inception two and a half weeks ago.
The administrative chief said, “We have had several inquiries from people who have been quarantined and unable to provide food to their elderly parents living alone.”
However, the group has not received any direct inquiries from seniors.
To bridge the gap between seniors, SG Assist also has phone lines for seniors to seek help.
Such contact numbers can then be disseminated among older people, who often hear about them through word of mouth or share them via WhatsApp.
With reference to Mr. Zeng, Adrian Tan, co-founder of SG Assist, explains why such hotlines are necessary: ”The senior cannot look after himself because he has no family support after the death of his wife. He cannot buy.” Groceries online and was afraid he would be fined if he left his home. “
As soon as SG Assist learns of such seniors, they will ask volunteers to conduct grocery stores using the SG Assist mobile app.
The People’s Association (PA) has also posted posters in the Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC to let residents in need know they will receive ration packets and meals delivered by community centers.
Over in Tampines North, volunteers have also been handing out care packs to those on the home recovery program or in quarantine since last Sunday (October 3rd).
On October 6, 1,600 PA employees and volunteers distributed 8,800 Care Packs to households with Home Recovery Program, or QO residents. Residents who need additional help can also seek help from PA staff and volunteers.
Ms. Fion Phua, founder of the Keeping Hope Alive volunteer platform, goes door to door every Sunday to wipe away seniors who live in Housing Board rented apartments and share more about vaccinations.
Ms. Phua said, “These seniors do not know how to use ART kits and do not have WiFi in their home. Some still don’t know that you can go to a community center and get the Covid-19 vaccine. “
Lions Befrienders, who care for 7,800 seniors, has also trained their seniors to use ART kits at their centers.
Its chairman, Mr. Anthony Tay, said: “There is too much information at the moment. When you have someone who calls you regularly and has an open ear, seniors feel safe asking the questions they have. “