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Retirement home offers ‘hug curtain’

SAO PAULO: Suzane Valverde hugs her 85-year-old mother Carmelita Valverde through a transparent plastic curtain at a senior nursing home on June 13, 2020. —– AFP

SAO PAULO: A retirement home in Brazil has come up with a creative solution to allow friends and families to enjoy personal contact with aging residents particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus: a “hugging curtain”. The large plastic curtain, installed in a retirement home in the city of Sao Paulo, allows residents on one side and visitors on the other to engage in the sort of comforting hugs that COVID-19 has made impossible for months. 

The curtain has pockets through which resident and visitor can insert their arms, and they are outfitted with shoulder-length black gloves for added protection. “It really feels good; I missed her so much!” 68-year-old Silvio Nagata told AFP after enjoying a long, emotional hug with his sister, Luiza Yassuko, who is 76, at a retirement home in the affluent Morumbi neighborhood.

“Because of the pandemic, I wasn’t able to visit her, especially because at my age I’m also part of a high-risk group,” Nagata said. “It’s an excellent system – it’s great to be able to take her in my arms,” said Nagata, a retired civil servant. “There were 12 of us brothers and sisters, and she was practically a mother to me,” he went on. “She didn’t get married so she could take care of us.”

Nurses carefully disinfect the plastic curtain after each use. “When we saw that this pandemic was going to last a long time, we had to find a safe way to let families see the residents and let the aging residents know that their loved ones are thinking of them,” said Mairo Martins, an physical therapist at the facility.

For visitors, the feeling of being able to take a loved one in their arms is deeply moving, especially as the pandemic continues to rule out normal human contact. “It’s good for them, but for us too; it’s been a while since we could hug anyone,” said Murilo Meira, 51, during a visit to 90-year-old Nair da Costa Marques, who needed a nurse’s help to stand for the much-awaited hug. 

 Sao Paulo state is Brazil’s richest and most populous state, with 46 million inhabitants, but it is also the hardest-hit by the coronavirus. There have been 172,875 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 10,581 deaths, according to the latest official tally. Brazil has registered the second-largest number of coronavirus deaths in the world, at 42,720, and of people infected (850,514), after the United States. — AFP

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