The most vulnerable to coronavirus, senior citizens are also the most affected by the ongoing nationwide lockdown. For many, with children living abroad or in other parts of the country, they can't go shopping for food or medicines for fear of crowds. Domestic help have disappeared because transport is off the roads. Some NGOs and the Kolkata Police are trying to help but it's all a drop in the ocean.
Sunanda Roy Chowdhury is 75. Her son is in Washington DC, daughter lives in New York. Domestic help are unable to come because she commutes by train and there are none. So today, her lunch came from an NGO in South Kolkata that her daughter contacted from New York. She could have cooked but supplies were low in the house.
"I live very near the market but I can't step out of the house. I am not supposed to step out of the house since I am 75 years old. So I have to depend on others, some young neighbours. If they are going to the market and if they are kind enough to get me some vegetables," said Mrs Roy Chowdhury, who lives near Lake Market on RB Avenue.
At the EKTA Heights housing complex near Garia, the same NGO, Banchbo Healing Touch, is in touch with 78-year-old Amalendu Pal, one of 100-odd senior citizen residents living there. His wife is 75 and not in the best of health. He wanted medicines for both of them but, knowing how older people are vulnerable to the virus, but did not dare step out for fear of queues. He called the NGO.
"My submission is, at least medicine should be supplied to senior citizens through home delivery. And at each shop there should be a separate counter for senior citizens. Priority should be given to the delivery of medicines to senior citizens," he said.
To keep residents safe, the housing complex and many others across the city have limited entry of domestic help with some exceptions for those who are over 70.
Sudita Paul Chowdhury, secretary of the EKTA Heights complex committee, said, "Just one or two domestic help are being allowed in absolutely essential cases. Only for septuagenarians and octogenarians. We have to invigilate about the hygiene being maintained, full dress is getting changes. Washing their hands~CHECK~ all this from downstairs itself as they are using elevators. Otherwise none allowed."
The housing complex secretary has a mother who is over 70 living some distance away from her home and agrees the lockdown is a challenge for senior citizens.
Trying to ease the challenge, the Kolkata Police has set up helplines and call centres to assist senior citizens. The numbers have been circulated widely and even those living abroad with old parents in Kolkata are urged to call.
And the calls are coming by the thousands. Aparajita Rai, Deputy Commissioner, Kolkata Police, who is overseeing the exercise said, "We are trying our best to ensure all these calls are being attended to individually. And that the Pronam members on any of the senior citizens do not face any harassment whatsoever in the present situation."
Kolkata Police already has an existing programme for senior citizens in the city called "Pronam" that has 17,000 members. That network is also being serviced.
Another crucial function: Police are screening NGOs willing to help, including Banchbo Healing Touch that has been functioning since 2007 and is headed by a specialist in geriatric medicine.
Dr Dhires Chaudhury, geriatrician and Head, Banchbo Healing Touch, said, "The fatality rate among the elderly in this corona outbreak is very much alarming. Report say that in the 52 to 59 age the percentage of fatality is 1.3 per cent. In age group 62 to 69, it becomes 3.6. 72 to 79 it becomes 8 per cent and 80 above, it becomes 14.8 per cent. Any kind of symptom which is flu like should not be neglected."
He also advises that if possible, when a senior citizen gets the flu, they should opt to be treated at home and not rush to a doctor.
On Sunanda Roy Chowdhury's wishlist is a government helpline that works. She drew a blank with some numbers circulating on social media. For now she is keeping her spirits.
"We have to believe that we shall overcome. That nothing will happen," she said.