20.04.2020 Europe

French retirement homes ease family visit ban to stem Covid-19 isolation

By Christina Okello with RFI
LISTEN APR 20, 2020

Residents in retirement homes will from Monday be able to receive visits from relatives, France's health minister has said. Guests were barred last month to protect vulnerable lodgers from Covid-19, but the prolonged ban has made them isolated.

The French government has told care home providers they can allow residents to see their families again from Monday but under "very limited conditions." 

Health minister Olivier Veran said the visits would be limited to no more than two family members at a time and that touching was strictly prohibited.

Visits will be carried out "at the resident's request," Veran told reporters Sunday, adding that it was up to each care home for the elderly, known in French as "EHPAD" (Établissement d'hébergement pour personnes âgées dépendantes), to determine with families whether a visit was absolutely necessary.

"A ban on physical contact is still in place, however there will be a visual contact," Veran said.

The decision to ease the ban on family visits in retirement homes comes amid increasing concerns of isolation felt by residents.

Ticking time bomb
Isolated in their rooms, with their families kept at bay, some elderly occupants have struggled to come to terms with their new reality, with health experts warning that the lockdown measures could be making their physical and mental health worse.

In March, French President Emmanuel Macron urged citizens to avoid visiting their relatives in retirement homes to prevent exposing them to possible coronavirus infection.

With elderly people especially vulnerable to Covid-19, France's more than 7,000 state-funded “EHPAD” care homes have been described as ticking time bombs. 

As of Saturday,  7,481 people had died at the facilities, accounting for nearly 40 percent of the deaths linked to the virus in the country.

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