Grandparents are suffering — from lack of hugs. Coronavirus rules prevent them being with their grandchildren. But not now in Switzerland. Will the British government relent this Sunday?

3 May 2020 By Paul Martin

But these Close Encounters of the Grandparental Kind are forbidden in many countries worldwide.

In the UK only families actually living under the same roof can mix socially. (Others must keep at least 2 metres away and cannot even indulge in joint walks from that distance.)

So parents can usually only have close physical contact with their children.

 

But the grandparents are left out in the cold – even if, as in the majority of cases with young grandchildren, the grandparents are below the age of seventy, and are therefore not in the high-risk category.

(The couple above look well enough and are pictured here on their 65th wedding anniversary last year)

 

Just what serious consequences this inter-generational separation can have was starkly revealed last week.

 

A great-grandfather took his own life after struggling with the heartache of not seeing his family, The Times reported.

 

It wrote:

Dennis Ward, 83, was found dead by his wife, Valerie, at their home in Kings Norton, Birmingham.

The father of two, with three grandchildren, was described as the “life and soul” of the party who had never had issues with his mental health before.

Mrs Ward, 77, who was married to the former Jaguar Land Rover worker for 60 years, said: “Dennis was someone who would go out every single day and always looked forward to seeing his family. The impact of this lockdown became too much for him. I’m heartbroken.”

The BBC, The Telegraph, The Times and several newspapers reported the Swiss findings and the new government ruling. Here is the BBC website’s version:

Coronavirus: Switzerland says young children can hug grandparents

  • 29 April 2020

Swiss authorities say it is now safe for children under the age of 10 to hug their grandparents, in a revision to official advice on coronavirus.

The health ministry’s infectious diseases chief Daniel Koch said scientists had concluded that young children did not transmit the virus.

However, he said such meetings should be brief and not involve babysitting.

Switzerland is one of several European countries beginning to ease their lockdown measures.

Dr Koch told a news conference this week that the original advice to keep distance between children and their grandparents was made when less was known about how the coronavirus was transmitted.

“Young children are not infected and do not transmit the virus,” he said. “They just don’t have the receptors to catch the disease.”

Hungarian DJ Lotfi Begi (R) and his children chat with one of the grandparents via Skype during their self-isolation at their home in Torokbalint, Hungary, 07 April 2020
For many children, Skype calls have been the only contact with grandparents

Dr Koch said that many grandparents “live to see their grandchildren” and that it was important for their mental health. He said it was not the children who posed a risk to elderly relatives but their parents.

The revised official guidelines came after consultation with experts at universities in Zurich, Bern and Geneva, Swiss broadcaster SRF reported.

The new advice applies to young children who show no signs of illness while older children must still avoid contact with grandparents.

Dr Koch advised only “brief contact with grandchildren”, not family get-togethers, babysitting, or spending time with children outside the home.

However, not all experts concur with the Swiss government’s findings.

Sounding a note of caution, Germany’s chief virologist Christian Drosten told Austrian broadcaster ORF that there was insufficient data to say conclusively that young children could not transmit the virus.

He said the question of whether children contracted the virus, and if so how they might pass it on, was answered differently in different studies.

Advice in the UK remains that children should not have contact with grandparents.

At a daily news briefing this week, Health Secretary Matt Hancock was asked by a member of the public when she would be allowed to hug her grandchildren again.

Mr Hancock said he “fully accepts” the importance of getting together with family but that it was important that “people who are vulnerable continue to be protected”.

The UK’s chief medical adviser, Chris Whitty, has warned that for some vulnerable groups close contact with family may continue to be a risk for some time.

The first member of the public to ask a question at a coronavirus briefing wanted to know about hugging close family when lockdown is relaxed.

Lynne in Skipton, North Yorkshire, said she missed her grandchildren and wanted to know whether allowing family to hug would be one of the first steps.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the question “brought home the emotional impact of lockdown”.

He said he hoped it would be allowed “as soon as possible”.

But Chris Whitty, the UK’s chief medical adviser, warned that for some vulnerable groups close contact with family may continue to be a risk for some time.

He said those groups would include people with “significant medical conditions” who were currently “shielding” and older people.

“If she’s in a group that’s vulnerable, then the answer is it might well be prudent – and this will depend entirely on individual circumstances – for her not to get into a situation where she’s putting herself at risk,” he said.

He said he “fully accepts” the importance of getting together with family. But he added: “Nevertheless it is important that people who are vulnerable continue to be protected even after whatever the next steps are.”

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