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Are seniors disproportionately affected by COVID-19?

Updated: Jul 30, 2020

by Lucia Dore

While the COVID-19 pandemic continues in most parts of the world (the US, the UK, Europe, Brazil and India are among the countries that are worst hit), the economic fallout from the pandemic affects everyone. Although international trade continues at a slower pace than before, international travel has stopped almost entirely- well, it had done until travel within Europe started up again. US residents have few places to travel to. In Australia and New Zealand only residents of their countries are allowed to return. The impact of the pandemic has varied according to geographies and age groups. While those in the countries mentioned above have been badly affected, those who are over 70 appear to be particularly hard hit. This age group has suffered the most from the pandemic, many in this age group dying. I read that many young people in the US go into nursing homes without wearing masks and are giving the virus to those who are living there. According to The Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine and the University of Oxford, with figures updated on 9 June, the death rate in the UK is 1.3% for 50 to 59-year-old, 3.6% for 60 to 69-year-olds, rising to 8% for 70 to 79 year olds and 14.8% for the over 80s. These figures compare with a death rate of only 0.32% for those 20 to 49 years. For the "all age" group and especially for the working age group, "15-64", England has the highest rates of excess mortality, compared to other countries, according to figures from the website, Spain had the highest cumulative excess mortality (P-score) over the pandemic weeks for the "over 85" age group. The US, however, has the highest absolute numbers, with a daily rate of nearly 80,000 confirmed cases. It ranks seventh in the world by mortality rate. Overall, the US the death rate from Covid-19 looks like that of countries with vastly lower wealth, health-care resources and technological infrastructure. It's difficult though to compare figures and mortality rates between countries because they use different methodologies and there is a lag between confirmed cases and confirmed deaths. Some countries also test more than others which means that the number of confirmed cases can be higher. What we do know is that across societies older people, those who are over 60 in particular, are dying more quickly than other age groups. But does it matter to society if people in this age group die?

After all, they are a burden on society and the focus on policy is on the younger age group who need to be gainfully employed. That seems to be the thinking of many policy makers anyway- the UK, Sweden, and the US among them. The removal of benefits for older people will also take a heavy toll. For example, in the UK, the BBC has announced it will go ahead with plans to end free TV licences for over-75s from 1 August. This is of great concern for the charity Age UK who writes: "We are bitterly disappointed by this decision and are urging the Government to sit down with the BBC urgently to keep TV licences free for over-75s." There has also been talk that the free bus pass scheme for the disabled and those who are 65 and older in England will end. Passengers aged over 65 or with a disability have been entitled to travel free of charge on any off-peak local service in England since 2007, thanks to the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme.

Now, however, bus passes can only be used after 9.30am.

There is no definitive answer as to whether the bus pass will continue. The London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, says the council does not have the resources to sponsor the scheme even though the council has recently received £1 billion from the government, as a result of a reduction in revenue because of coronavirus.

Khan has also put a £15 congestion charge on every day of the week on every vehicle that does not have low emissions that comes into London. This charge will be in addition to the cost of parking.

There is also talk within the government that the state pension, now standing at $175.20, may have to be cut to help ease the burden of debt that is crippling the UK economy. Billions of government money was pumped into the economy to stave off recession as a result of COVID-19. Some 11,000 people were forecast to lose payments worth £70 per week from April, as the Government cut extra payments for "adult dependents". If further cuts are made to pensioners' income, this will probably happen at the same time as prices for basic goods at the supermarket rise as the UK cut ties with the EU.

However, if older people are more disproportionately affected than younger ones from COVID-19, does this matter?

Photo: by Carole Railton (copyright). Are seniors falling through the holes in society?

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