Photo/Illutration Happier times. Family members meet in the arrival lobby of Miyazaki Airport on Dec. 29, 2012. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

With less than three weeks until the year-end, normally I'd be busy making preparations right now to return to my hometown where my aged parents are living.

But everything is turned upside down this year.

Back in summer, I agonized over whether to visit them during the Bon holiday season, and decided against it at the last minute.

And that's how it's going to be for the year-end and New Year's holidays, too.

This year, controversy arose over the introduction of a "two-week rule" at nursing care facilities. This unfamiliar expression denoted a secret agreement among nursing care providers to suspend in-house care services and the use of care facilities for two weeks if any patients had family members visiting from areas with high cases of COVID-19.  

According to Saeko Ota, director of Paokko, a nonprofit organization supporting long-distance nursing care services, the two-week rule was enforced at many facilities for a time.

I was disturbed by the nature of some of the issues on which people sought advice from Paokko.

For instance, one complaint concerned a facility that posted a notice banning entry to "visitors from the Tokyo metropolitan area."

One person lamented that a tech-illiterate parent refuses to engage in online chats. Another recounted that while they refrained from visiting their hometown for six months, their elderly parent's dementia progressed, and one parent started phoning constantly at all hours.  

This has been an extremely tough year for nursing care facilities and their staff, too. Safety cannot be guaranteed even with frequent temperature-taking and observance of strict sterilization procedures. Every day has been an ongoing battle against potential cluster infections and ensuring that the elderly, who are at high risk of developing severe symptoms, are duly protected.

And not only nursing care, but the entire medical system is being overwhelmed around the nation.

The government's expert panel on the novel coronavirus on Dec. 11 urged the public to be "cautious about hometown visits" and to "spend the year-end and New Year's holidays quietly."

For the nation to get through the final weeks of this year safely, seniors need to stay strong and the younger generation must be caring and considerate toward their elders. 

I am ever filled with the deepest respect and gratitude for the dedication of front-line medical and nursing care personnel.

This winter, it is probably best to forgo hometown visits and spend more time phoning and writing letters to loved ones.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 12

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.