OPINION: Government’s ‘Don’t kill your Gran’ message is the lowest of the low

Health minister Matt Hancock this week warned of the dangers of young people passing on coronavirus

Health minister Matt Hancock this week warned of the dangers of young people passing on coronavirus to their grandparents. But Rachel Moore says there is a generation of lonely elderly people in care homes who have been largely forgotten about - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Columnist Rachel Moore says we need to sympathise with the many elderly people living their lives in isolation rather than worrying that a cuddle with them could kill them

The most miserable time of my life was three days in isolation.

Incarcerated in a locked and alarmed sealed room, trays of food left outside my locked door three times a day and not clapping eyes on another human being for three days was a wretched experience,

But at least I knew it would only be for three days. After the radiation treatment worked its magic on any stray cancer cells I would be liberated from that lead-lined room painted the most depressing shade of grey ‘decorated’ with prints of stormy seas.

Then I would be back with friends and family.

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The value of human company and contact is taken for granted until it’s not there.

But elderly people in care homes – and their own homes – have been living like this, on and off, for months, locked away to protect their lives, and everyone else in that home, from coronavirus.

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Yearning to see their loved ones, feel the loving touch of their children and grandchildren, spend time with their friends, people in the final years of their life have been living in their small rooms, often without a view of anything but a brick wall, to extend their lives.

Not only have visitors been banned to protect these 80 and 90-odds from risk of the disease, at any hint of infection in homes, residents are confined to their rooms where they sit all day every day until test results say they are allowed to mingle again.

It could be weeks, even months,

They sleep, eat, watch, TV and listen to the radio in these small rooms, with only carers for company in full mask, gloves and protective clothing darting in and out.

Even if there is a comforting pat on the arm, it is by a cold plastic glove. They can see eyes but reassuring sympathetic expressions are literally masked. And then out dashes the carer to the next room.

It must be a living hell. Loneliness is hell. Many people go into a home for company after losing a partner. It wasn’t opting for prison.

I wonder how many of these good and long lives lived people would happily take the risk of tea with their family and a cuddle with their grandchildren rather than solitary confinement for heaven knows how long?

‘Sod the risk to me, let’s get on with living’ would be most residents’ reactions, I bet. They aren’t living, they are barely existing and it must be hateful. Effectively locked away for what could be their final years.

These grandparents also detest what Covid has done to the lives of young people, in lockdown, today, and opportunities for their lives to come.

Like any parent of 17-25-year-olds, they should be furious at health secretary Matt Hancock’s cheap soundbite this week blaming “affluent young people” for spreading the virus, warning them “don’t kill your gran.”

Understandably, families of grans killed by the virus in the first months of lockdown because Mr Hancock allowed hospital discharge of old people into care homes without testing are irate.

Sensitivity of a sledgehammer.

“Don’t kill your gran by catching coronavirus and then passing it on. And you can pass it on before you’ve had any symptoms at all,” he said.

These young people have been doing what the government wanted them to do – told them to do - getting out into pubs, playing sport, eating out to help out, observing social distancing and being careful.

Now they are being blamed for recklessness.

The highest infection rates are in people under-25s, hence the gran-slaying comment.

My 21-year-old son heads back to university at the weekend 300 miles away, into communal living like a million other young people all over the country.

He’s been playing football with his friends at five-a-side centres open for business, and been out, escaping from locked down rural Norfolk instead of living it up thousands of miles away making the most of a chance of a lifetime, studying for a degree in Russia for a year.

Since venturing out again, his friends have all been just as mindful about infection, aware they could be asymptomatic, but have got on with life, being thoughtful about the risk.

For the health secretary to suggest that they will be at fault for any second wave and wiping out a generation of senior citizens is outrageous.

My son’s grandmother died on his 21st birthday in July aged nearly 92. Like every elderly loving grandparent, she would have wanted him to make the most of his life now.

His third university year was supposed to have been spent in St Petersburg with his summer working in South America, improving his languages for his final year of a degree in Spanish and Russian.

By being ordered back to the UK early, he has missed out on a crucial part of his academic journey and will head back to university for language exams after missing out on months of learning.

His degree may well be poorer for it, affecting life opportunities even more.

To make a rise in cases – as public transport, workplaces, restaurants and pubs open back up – the fault of young people, is yet another governmental insult and misjudgement.

It will, at best, cause generational friction. At worst, civil disobedience and unrest, and community antagonism towards students getting out and about in new cities and towns.

And no gran will blame their grandchildren for living life.

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