‘The 2019 Plague” Day 179’
On May 11, Monday afternoon, there were more than four million people worldwide infected with the coronavirus (COVID-19), with over 250,000 deaths.
More than half of those who die are over the age of 60-years old, many of whom also suffer from other underlying serious illnesses. The chances of younger, healthier people dying of the virus are very remote.
There have been six deaths in Myanmar so far, and five of those have been over the age of 63. It’s not clear whether all of these patients died as a direct result of the disease, or that they died with the disease. Nevertheless, everyone knows how important it is to look after the elderly during the outbreak.
After the first cases of COVID-19 were announced in Myanmar in late March, the government urged elderly citizens and those with chronic illnesses to stay inside.
Part of Italy’s high death toll has been attributed to its relatively old population, and in the United States reports suggest an estimated one-third of all deaths are from nursing homes.
In Myanmar most nursing homes have been under semi-lockdown, with restrictions placed of visitors entering, and the patients leaving, the facilities.
“Such restrictions are a priority, as it’s better to prevent COVID-19 than to treat it later – especially among the elderly,” said Ma Thu Thu, an administrator of the Save the Aged Nursing Home in South Dagon.
Save the Aged has 25 old age residents, and Ma Thu Thu managed to lock down all of the residents after the first cases were announced in Myanmar. She said that donors who come to the aged care home are only allowed to meet with the management team.
Ma Thu Thu also said that the food is prepared carefully, with a month’s supply delivered in advance. When the supplies arrive, the packaging is sprayed with disinfectant.
The Thabarwa Center in Thanlyin is home to 3,000 residents, including the old and chronically ill. U Ottama Sara is the head monk, and recites sermons twice a day to residents to encourage mental well-being and personal resilience.
Though many of the elderly are mentally healthy, they constantly talk about COVID-19 – sometimes causing unnecessary stress, said U Ottama Sara. “On the other hand, at least now they have very good knowledge about the virus,” he added.
The residents are always careful to keep social distance from staff and themselves, Daw Saitta Thuka Waddy, a nun who works at the Thabarwa Centre, said.
Though the protocols and new rules seem strict, most of the elderly adopted them quickly. “The management is very good here, and they explain the rules very clearly. Most of us are close to death anyway, and we know they take good care of us,” U Sanda, an 85-year-old man from Save The Aged.
Before the COVID-19 restrictions he enjoyed visiting the local tea shop with fellow residents from Save The Aged. Now, like all of the residents at the nursing home, he lives his days inside under the shadow of the virus outside.
“I really miss being outside, going for a tea and enjoying the sunshine. Now we’re locked inside, and it feels like we are no longer free,” he said.
But more than the freedom to roam around the shops in the neighbourhood, many of the residents also said that they missed interacting with people from the outside – like their children, donors and well-wishers dropping by to visit.
It has been two months since the restrictions have separated them from the outside world, the physical and social worlds.
Residents at the Day Care Centre for the Aged in Mayangone township enjoying a chat, albeit with smartphones, and close contact before the coronavirus outbreak, back in 2016.
Grandpa Soe Hlaing said he had fond memories of the donors visiting. “In the past they used to bring us things like bread and butter, as well as money. We used to talk with them, but now they have to place their donations outside because of the virus. I hope pandemic ends quickly,” U Phoe Hlaing said.
Another thing that often unites the residents is their spiritual beliefs. The 83-year-old U Kyaw Si said that he always enjoyed watching Aung San Suu Kyi give her speech, right after listening to the words from the Sayadaw.
He claims that the words of the Buddha are good medicine, and help people cope with the unknown. “The virus is nothing to worry about. While we are protected physically, we will also try to ward off the virus with the Dhamma,” U Kyay Si said.