Antokol is the oldest Polish retirement home in London. Established in 1951, it was designed to take care of emigrants and refugees who remained in the United Kingdom after the Second World War and could not return home. Till this day, several of its pensioners are war veterans.
Joanna R., who has been working in Antokol since December 2019, stated that out of 36 pensioners there, 9 or 10 of them had died due to Covid-19. She explained that it is hard to tell the exact number because there is a limited amount of tests.
Although infections started at the very beginning of the pandemic, the staff could not declare with certainty that it was the coronavirus despite having suspicions.
The worker explained that the situation was made even more dire due to the National Health Service (NHS) information telephone line being overloaded and there not being enough tests for the pensioners. She referred to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s words as “incredibly cruel” when he mentioned natural selection in relation to coronavirus.
The virus affected almost everyone in Antokol, including staff and pensioners, although many managed to get through the disease without much trouble. The isolation itself, however, also had tragic effects on some of the elderly.
The biggest issue in the UK during the peak of the epidemic was the lack of medical and hygienic equipment and products. Even hospitals were permitted to reuse equipment meant for single-use.
Joanna R. stressed that Antokol was one of the retirement homes least affected by the virus, as they had access to the right tools and staff.
In many other homes, there was no medical equipment and caretakers left their jobs in fear for their own health.
The worker listed lack of information, underestimating the problem and insufficient amounts of protective equipment as the main problems in the UK’s response to the pandemic. The only thing which had been done right was the isolation of the elderly from the rest of the country, but Joanna pointed out that even that decision was taken too late.
According to the British Office for National Statistics (ONS), 80,978 persons died in retirement homes since the start of 2020, and 14,028 of these deaths have been reported to have been due to the coronavirus. In the UK, 29.6 percent of all coronavirus deaths were in retirement homes.