Professor urges people to be certain of their own health and hygiene before visiting elderly

Visiting vulnerable people should be avoided unless you are absolutely convinced that your own health and hygiene are good enough, a professor has advised.

The advice comes after it was confirmed that people aged over 70 will be asked in the coming weeks to self-isolate for up to four months, in order to protect them from Covid-19.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the Government measure is “a very big ask of the elderly and the vulnerable”, but that it would be for their own “self-protection”.

Professor William Keevil, professor of Environmental Healthcare at University of Southampton, has suggested staying in touch with vulnerable people by telephone or Skype to prevent loneliness or depression, and to ensure they have the food and medication they need.

Prof Keevil (pictured) said: “This new virus causes minor problems for 80% of infected people but appears to be easily transmissible and causes serious health problems and mortality for some of those who are more vulnerable.

“Public officials and governments must therefore take this threat seriously – we have already seen very intensive measures implemented in other countries and the lockdown measures, while slow to implement, appear to be quite effective in China.

“We are now into the community transmission phase (ie: we cannot trace possible contacts easily) and the lack of symptoms in some people is not unexpected but worrying in terms of being able to isolate them.

“So yes, as of now, avoid visiting vulnerable people (very old or with serious heart disease and other morbidities, eg: diabetes) unless you are absolutely convinced about your health (no coughs or fever) and personal hygiene (washed hands, clean clothes and shoes, etc) being good enough; wash your hands immediately on arrival and avoid touching the person and your own face during the visit.”

He said people should remember to remove coats with care before washing their hands as outer garments might be contaminated.

The professor added: “The longer the stay the greater the potential risk to your host. Importantly, stay in contact with them by telephone, Skype etc to avoid them becoming lonely or depressed; perhaps treat them to a simple iPad type of device or similar and show them how to use it for Facetime or Skype visual calls with you.

“Make sure they are feeling well and receiving food and any medication they usually take.

“If the person receives regular visits from support workers, ensure they are able to continue attending regularly or if the health visitors become ill then be prepared to bring the food and medicines yourself.

“These can be left on the doorstep or open the door and have a friendly chat without going in or, if you are convinced your health and hygiene are perfect, enter for a short stay – taking the hygiene precautions described earlier.”

Prof Keevil said it is difficult to know whether four months of isolation is going to be sufficient because he said this depends on whether the numbers of infections drop significantly during this period.

“If the outbreak continues then the vulnerable may need to isolate for much longer. This is not ideal from a social and psychological viewpoint for single people but necessary for the person’s physical health.

“If resources permit, vulnerable people should be grouped into a ‘day centre’ or ‘care home’ environment administered by staff trained in hygiene and infection control to maintain people contact and reduce loneliness and depression.

“This would be a huge undertaking given the number of single vulnerable people in the country but must be considered long term.

“Good neighbours are essential but must take the necessary hygiene precautions before they visit,” he said.

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