Moving from the Lockdown to the New Normal
Like many countries, Thailand went through a three-month lockdown (stay-at-home) period to prevent the spread of Covid-19. During the lockdown, people were forced to isolate with limited opportunities to participate in outdoor activities and socialize. The sharp dip in the economy forced many businesses to close and unemployment to surge. Despite living with one’s family, social distancing was still recommended. The resulting isolation and social distancing has hit Thai seniors particularly hard with implications to their physical, mental and financial health.
The situation in Thailand is now relaxing as there have been no locally transmitted cases for over 50 days. The Thai Government has slowly reopened the country and ended the lockdown. However, the risk of the virus is still real, which has resulted in a New Normal where people still have to practice social distancing habits to keep themselves and their loved ones safe and healthy. At the same time, many are struggling with bereavement, grief and loss (e.g. businesses closed, unemployment, and health issues) from the crisis. This type of loss and pressure leads to stress, particularly with vulnerable groups, such as the elderly who are at high risk of Covid-19. While up to 30% of those over 80 years or older have poor health, the seniors are at very high risk of severe illness and death due to underlying health conditions. Moreover, Thai seniors have a high level of non-communicative diseases (NCDs) such as hypertension, high blood pressure and obesity. The majority of seniors rely on the care and financial support of younger family members. In this new normal era, we must give thought to how the younger generation can effectively take care of themselves, and their families, including their elder relations.
Adaptive models to restart society
While the end of the Covid-19 crisis is unknown, several countries are pursuing recovery plans to establish new normal so that people can get on with their lives as the risk of Covid-19 remains. In the U.K., Dr. Joy Furnival, (2020) stated that the plans should be built on lessons learned through the crisis and short-term recovery should be addressed in order to restart basic services based on the anticipated speed of the recovery period. Moreover, the key areas of focus should cover humanitarian assistance (e.g. homelessness, vulnerable people – including seniors, economic recovery, infrastructure, and environment). While not a perfect fit for Thailand, Kenan has taken these best practices to develop an effective local response.
With five years of experience working with seniors, Kenan successfully implemented a healthy aging society community model of assistance by building the capacities of change agents in Bangkok and Ubon Ratchathani in physical health, mental health, and financial literacy. With the significant impact of Covid-19 on seniors, Kenan is adapting our model to the new normal by addressing senior needs, particularly those caused by social distancing related to nutrition, exercise and mental health. To achieve this, Kenan’s NextGen Health Aging program was split into two phases: a recovery phase that meets urgent needs of the seniors regarding digital literacy, and physical and mental well-being; and, a financial security and employment phase to support seniors as they transition to the new normal. This new design expands on our existing program and was designed after extensive outreach to health volunteers, health center officials and teachers, conducting community surveys, and documenting of lessons learned in order to create a “Thai-centric” response to COVID, such as using more digital platforms and focusing more attention to the most vulnerable.
Public health models like Kenan’s aging model can support Thailand in the urgent process of setting a plan to rebuild society and to form part of the solution to shape adaptive living models for Thai society in our New Normal.
To learn more about our work to build a strong and innovative aging society in Thailand, visit www.kenan-asia.org/nextgen-aging