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How will Suffolk help its over-70s ordered to stay at home by government?

PUBLISHED: 16:32 15 March 2020 | UPDATED: 07:34 16 March 2020

Matt Hancock told Andrew Marr that people more than 70 years old could be told to stay at home for months. Picture: Jeff Overs/BBC/PA Wire

Matt Hancock told Andrew Marr that people more than 70 years old could be told to stay at home for months. Picture: Jeff Overs/BBC/PA Wire

The news that the government is expecting to tell over-70s to stay at home at the height of the coronavirus pandemic has prompted Suffolk’s Age UK to look at ways of easing the danger of loneliness for people facing several months of self-isolation.

Andrew Gardner, chief executive of Age UK Suffolk. Picture: AGE UK SUFFOLKAndrew Gardner, chief executive of Age UK Suffolk. Picture: AGE UK SUFFOLK

And the leader of Ipswich council, which runs sheltered housing schemes and runs support groups for elderly people, said it would be very difficult for many to accept months of being isolated from their friends and families.

Andrew Gardner, chief executive of Age UK Suffolk, said: 'We are absolutely committed to the wellbeing of older people in our county and whilst we understand that the current news is frightening, we would urge everyone to heed government advice at all times.

'As an organisation, we are putting in place measures to ensure that we can continue to support older people through our service provision where possible - this will include telephone advice, telephone befriending and where possible continuation of our home help service.

'In addition to this, we will monitor our community engagement activities and follow the advice given.

'While this is sustainable in the shorter term, we will be looking at longer term interventions if there is an extended period of isolation and will be working with other local organisations to reach those people who are at their most vulnerable.

'We need to balance the potential isolation with social need - we are very aware that many of our older people feel increasingly lonely and isolated and there is a significant risk that this will increase with the current state of affairs.

'We would encourage people to check in on their neighbours - pop a note through their door, asking if they need any shopping - avoiding face to face contact where possible.

'Leave your telephone number so they can call, even if its just for a chat. This is going to be most effective in smaller communities, and we need to make sure that where possible this is offered by people who are close by.'

'We would urge anyone who is worried about an older person in their community, if they can't make contact themselves, to get in touch with us and through our network of community organisations, we can work to support people at this difficult time.'

Ipswich Council leader David Ellesmere said the authority had not heard officially from the government, but he was aware of health secretary Matt Hancock's comments about telling those aged over 70 to stay at home.

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He said: 'We shall be working with the people we support. This is a very big step - it will be very difficult for many people.'

Mr Ellesmere said the impact of the virus on the economic life of the country was now becoming clear - and felt many businesses across the town could struggle or fail to survive over the next few months.

West Suffolk MP Mr Hancock told the Andrew Marr show on the BBC that the government was bringing in legislation this week that would allow the government to bring in orders placing those aged more than 70 in quarantine if the number of cases took off too fast.

That quarantine - telling older people to stay in their homes - could last up to four months until the numbers of cases of coronavirus had fallen significantly. Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dr Dan Poulter thought the rules could be different for older people in rural areas than for those in large towns or cities.

There was a mixed reaction to the news from commenters on our Facebook page.

Chris Carter said: 'So out of touch... who's going to feed them, shop for them, make sure they are okay? Are the MPs going to do personal house calls?'

Richard Butler said: 'I hope the government will utilise the Army or some resource to supply these people with essentials to survive from the shops.'

Jenny Cook said: 'How will older people get enough food supplies if they have limited family backup? Relying on neighbours in our current society is no answer for many.'

Caroline Mowle said: 'What about elderly people that live with others? Also elderly people who need carers to go in daily?'

Suzy Que said: 'So according to this government we are fit enough to keep slogging our guts out until we are 67, but come 70 we are vulnerable enough to isolate for four months?!'

Caroline Evans said: 'Surely we as communities can make sure that we take care of these needs for our older neighbours and friends. If this is the only way to keep them safe then that's what we need to do.'

And Kay Horlock added: 'When I was growing up, any time we had bad weather we asked our elderly neighbours and mums with young children if they needed shopping etc. Why is it so difficult for people to do that during this viral outbreak? We all need to pitch in and help each other.'

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