Susan Holding (right) talking with her mother Barbara Webster during a drive-through visit to Gracewell, a residential care home, in Adderbury near Banbury west of London. — AFP
LONDON: The cars snaking past the bunting-adorned entrance of a British care home point to an era when even cherished family visits have to be socially distant because of Covid-19.
Gracewell of Adderbury home for the elderly, in central England, is trying out drive-through family visits to protect its vulnerable residents from the ever-present dangers of the new disease.
The anxious visitors sit in their cars, smiling encouragingly at their loved ones, while the elderly, some of them in their 90s, relax in comfy armchairs in the small driveway, soaking up the warm spring sun.
They try to chat a little at a safe distance, making the best of a trying time in which families have been forced to live apart for over two months while the government tries to stamp out a virus that has officially claimed around 38,000 lives — second only to the United States.
"Emotional, yeah, very emotional. I just wanted to hug them," said Helen Hughes, daughter of one of the residents.
How difficult was it to resist that urge to reach out and hug?
"Huge. Huge," Hughes said.
"I just want to hug them because they don't understand what's going on," she said, trying to smile through the pain of being forcibly apart from her mother.
'Hello my lovely'
Care homes have been ravaged by the virus across Europe.
The British government said last Friday that 6,182 — or 39.8 percent — of the ones in England currently had "a suspected outbreak of symptomatic or confirmed coronavirus".
Britain's Office of National Statistics (ONS) has counted around 13,500 care home deaths attributed to Covid-19 in Britain, although the real number could be higher because not all of those who pass away get tested first.
The ONS has counted more than 46,000 total fatalities in Britain "involving" the virus as of mid-May.
Gracewell manager Arlene Acuavera said her home has been thankfully spared by the disease.
"We are very, very fortunate and lucky that we haven't had any residents or staff who are positive with Covid-19," she said with evident relief.
"We are maintaining that through our infection control management," the manager said of the drive-through visits.
"We are just fortunate and we keep on praying that it will continue until the end."
Britain is now easing its way out of lockdown, although the four countries — England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — are each taking slightly different approaches to what might be allowed when.
The new freedoms are laced with added danger, and socially distant visits like the one adopted at the Gracewell are likely to continue for many more months.
All of which leaves Britons slightly perplexed but stoic.
"I think he enjoyed it. I do think he enjoyed it," said Nicola Finch, a granddaughter of one of the residents, after driving away and letting the next family take its turn.
"As soon as I got the 'Hello my lovely', I knew he was fine," she said. "Because although he doesn't remember a lot, he still recognises voices and things like that."