The 89-year-old – who is my nanna – used stoicism and black humor to cope during those times. It’s the same now with Covid-19. “I do sometimes wonder how on Earth I’ve ended up here with coronavirus around me,” she tells me over the phone from New South Wales (NSW). “But I’ve seen worse things happen, and I don’t worry about it.”
When the coronavirus reached Australia in January, my family assumed that my grandparents – both of whom live in aged care homes – were in the safest place possible.
Five months on, the sector has seen scores of outbreaks and 156 of Australia’s 247 virus deaths. This includes 12 of the 15 announced on Wednesday – Australia’s deadliest day yet.
In a deepening crisis, some providers have been accused of failing to protect society’s most vulnerable members. State and federal governments are also facing questions.More than 180,000 people live in Australia’s residential aged care homes, which are managed by not-for-profit groups, private companies and government organizations.
Many of these facilities were quick to impose their own lock-downs. Some went beyond the government’s official advice by banning visitors, halting activities and confining people to their rooms.
Margaret has been relatively lucky. Though visitors were forbidden for a while, residents at her home in regional NSW can move around freely.
But my other grandma – aged 87 and also named Margaret – has not left her care home in Melbourne, Victoria, since March. And in the past month, Melbourne has seen infections surge. Grandma is confined to her room with the exception of short walks down the corridor. She sits in her armchair and eats meals alone.
Despite this, she has only praise for staff at her home who are working under extraordinary pressure. Grandma has upped her word search game and plays “hallway bingo”, where residents sit in doorways as a staff member walks up and down shouting numbers.
“The lock-down is hard but I’ve accepted that it’s for my own welfare,” she says. “I don’t go to bed worrying about it. It’s hard not being able to see my family but just because they’re not here doesn’t mean they don’t love me.”