According to the National Health Commission, as of Aug 16, a total of 548 COVID-19 cases had been identified in Yangzhou, Jiangsu Province, with people over 60 accounting for more than half of them.
Yangzhou has been categorized as an aging society since 1986. The most recent national census conducted in 2020 indicated that 1.19 million Yangzhou residents are older than 60, accounting for 26.01 percent of the total population. Among them, more than 900,000 are over the age of 65.
As a result of the outbreak, many local seniors have had their normal routines disrupted, with local health officials advising them to “stay at home”.
On a mobile app specifying the risk of COVID-19 across the country, hundreds of red and orange dots highlight places in Yangzhou where people with confirmed cases have been.
Sijiyuan market, which was visited by someone identified as being this outbreak’s “patient zero”, has been closed until further notice. The closure has impacted many elderly residents of the city, including the family of Li Zhen.
Li’s 76-year-old grandfather used to visit the market to buy cheap groceries. But since the closure of Sijiyuan, the neighborhood market has become the only choice for the entire community. Last week, Li’s grandfather was only able to buy an eggplant and a ribbon fish, while Li’s mother spent over two hours doing grocery shopping –– something that used to take minutes.
Senior citizens who are not familiar with smartphones face additional challenges in getting the things they need. Li Zhen’s grandmother does not own a smartphone and has to borrow her husband’s phone to register her personal information during the regular COVID tests.
For senior citizens like Li’s grandmother, an accompanying person is always needed when visiting public spaces to show the electronic health code on the smartphone. The health code indicates a person’s health status based on their travel history and contacts.
Despite the city’s successful vaccination program, according to Yangzhou Broadcast & Television, as of July 15, around 60 percent of senior citizens have yet to receive a shot. Li’s grandmother, aged 73, has not been vaccinated, as she has underlying conditions. She used to enjoy chatting with the other elderly ladies in the neighborhood. But now, she and Li’s grandfather aimlessly stare at their TV out of boredom.
To make life easier for seniors during the current outbreak, the community and local government are taking action. For example, the neighborhood where Li Zhen’s mother resides has organized residents and volunteers to shop for daily necessities. The testing centers in Yangzhou have also set up a line specifically for seniors where they can use their ID cards rather than smartphones to register personal information. The Ganquan community in Yangzhou has also borrowed walking sticks, wheelchairs, and other mobility equipment from the local federation for people with disabilities to facilitate the testing process.