Belgian retirement home offers 'hug curtain' for safe embrace

PERUWELZ, Belgium (Reuters) - Residents of a Belgian retirement home are able to soothe the pain of social distancing measures imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic by embracing their loved ones through a ‘hug curtain’.

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Staff at the Jardins de Picardie nursing home near the French border installed the large plastic curtain on June 14 and it has proven very popular with the residents, who had not been allowed any visitors for 11 weeks.

Lili Hendrickx, an 86-year old resident of the home, said the curtain was “the most beautiful invention” she had ever seen.

“It’s terribly emotional for me,” she said, adding that she cried the first time she was able to hug her daughter again.

“The feeling you get when you are close to someone like that, I felt like the heat was passing through.”

Visitors were equally enthusiastic.

“The fact that you can meet your loved ones again, it’s a real pleasure, especially physically and emotionally, it feels good,” said Amandine Josefiak, 35, who had come to visit her father at the home.

The curtain, decorated with flowers and bright colours, is made of a big plastic sheet with two pockets on each side where residents and visitors or staff insert their arms.

After each use, nurses carefully disinfect the plastic curtain.

“Due to the coronavirus and this social distancing we all suffered a lot from the lack of affection,” Marie Christine Desoer, the director of the home, said.

“We know it will last for a while, we don’t know where we’re going with this virus...”

Belgium imposed its lockdown on March 18 to halt the spread of COVID-19 but has now started to relax the restrictions.

The disease has so far claimed 9,761 lives in Belgium, a country of 11 million, one of the highest fatality rates per capita in the world.

(This story corrects spelling of resident’s surname in paragraph 3)

Reporting by Bart Bisemans, writing by Marine Strauss; Editing by Gareth Jones