A strategy for senior citizens during the coronavirus crisis

The Health Ministry has recommended that senior citizens stay in their homes, in seclusion, for their own protection. It was not an order; it was a recommendation.

BUT WHO will help the senior citizens? (photo credit: REUTERS)
BUT WHO will help the senior citizens?
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel published an article last Monday in TheMarker in which she delineated “a strategy for getting the senior citizens out of the [coronavirus] crisis.”
She pointed out that “any plan to exit the crisis which is based on age is not effective, is not moral – and endangers hundreds of thousands of old people.”
I was a little confused by what this sentence actually said, but then arrived at the following paragraph, which caused me to blow a fuse.
“The green label: just as the government is outlining these days a ‘purple label,’ one should outline a process for receiving a ‘green label’ among the seniors. The green label will be a sort of license for members of the third age to move around in the public space, exactly like younger persons. This process will include a health declaration, a doctor’s certificate with regards to a proper medical situation, and an undertaking to inform the Health Ministry about any medical change. The examination will be based on the GPs from the health funds. Whoever measures up to these conditions will receive a green label, with a validity of one year.”
What? Not on your life, Gamliel. The Health Ministry has recommended that senior citizens stay in their homes, in seclusion, for their own protection. It was not an order; it was a recommendation.
Most of my over-65 friends took it literally, didn’t meet their families, and didn’t even go to buy groceries and medication, ordering everything by phone or on the Internet. I stayed home most days, didn’t meet my daughters, granddaughters and friends for two months, but insisted on doing my own shopping, walked down six flights of stairs every day to take down the garbage, and then climb up again for exercise. When it was still cold, I went down every evening to make sure the central heating was working properly (I myself have disconnected and have an independent heating system), took short walks around my neighborhood within a 100-m. parameter from the building where I live, but spent the Seder alone.
The only rule I considered, and still consider, to be an order is to report to Magen David Adom if any coronavirus symptoms appear. They haven’t. Now Gamliel would have me get a green label.
I understand that the idea is to ensure that we – the senior citizens/members of the third age/the elderly/old folks/the mentally frail (take your pick) – should be protected as far as possible from catching the virus, because we are in the high-risk group. But why take around a million persons aged 65 and above and either stick a stigmatizing label on them or deny them a label that will enable them to move about freely in the public sphere and mind their own business, when only several tens of thousands among them are physically and/or mentally disabled to the extent of not being able to care for themselves, or take calculated decisions about their own welfare, even without the corona pandemic?
Most of us are citizens of a certain age (I am 76), proud to remain independent, socially and professionally active (quite a few – around 20% – are still gainfully employed), and active in caring for our grandchildren – something we have been prevented from doing in the last two months, when our children have most urgently needed our help. And yes, there is also quite a bit of loneliness among us, and anxieties which seclusion and detachment from family, friends and at least a semblance of a normal routine don’t help alleviate.
An annual green label will help? Isn’t it enough that we need medical checkups every few years in order to renew our driver’s license?
It was Amia Lieblich, a professor emeritus in the psychology department at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem – who is still professionally active at the age of 80 – who pointed out, in an article in Haaretz in mid-March, that all at once she found herself labeled as an old lady, even though she does not feel like one, and looked upon condescendingly by the establishment.
“I feel as if I am on death row, not because of the danger but because of the labeling,” she said to her core family at their last meeting before the shutdown.
A childhood friend, who is still professionally active but is currently living in a sort of existential void, commented to me the other day that she finds herself in a confusing state of timelessness, which, she added, can apparently contribute to Alzheimer’s disease. It is preferable, she said, to live with deadlines and even performance anxieties – alluding to what I am doing this very moment, as I write this article – which help us stay sharp and focused. I would add that sticking labels on us – especially labels designed to narrow our steps and set us apart from all other citizens – is really counterproductive, in this sense as well.
OF COURSE, I realize that we are not the only group in society that is being treated by our leaders merely as faceless statistics (Gamliel’ s 700-word article is not just full of different terms referring to the over-65s – some more derogatory than others – but also full of statistics). Perhaps that is the only way our decision-makers are capable of coping with the complicated reality – certainly when they are predominantly men.
In the case of opening nurseries and kindergartens this week, someone suggested on one of the endless current affairs TV shows that perhaps one of the reasons the situation is so chaotic and unfair toward tens of thousands and possibly hundreds of thousands of toddlers and preschool children and their parents is the absence of women among the decision-makers.
It is therefore rather disappointing to see what one of the few serving women ministers, the most pleasant, mild and sensible among them, one of whose ministerial responsibilities is senior citizens (though it isn’t at all clear in what sense), has to say on what her ministry suggests should be done to get us – the over 65s – through the crisis.
Incidentally, the day before yesterday I drove from Jerusalem to Kiryat Tivon (near Haifa), at the invitation of my daughter who lives there, to see her and my two granddaughters. Spending several hours with them, after not seeing them for two months, was sheer pleasure, as was the ability to get into my car and drive 144 km. each way, without any traffic jams. I didn’t break any law or order. I took a calculated risk, as we are all called upon to do all the time in these uncertain days, after the lockdown has been lifted, before a cure has been found to the new virus.