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When are you too old to be treated for coronavirus?

Updated: Apr 23, 2020

It’s impossible not to read about COVID-19, or coronavirus, and the way the world is dealing with its contagion. The result of its spread has been terrible. It shows how interconnected the world is. The economic repercussions, along with the health ones, are huge. Airlines in all countries and tourist-based industries, as some of many examples, are likely to go bust or, at least, offload many employees.

In all the reporting, the elderly- those who are 70, 80 and above- seem to be among the hardest hit. Compared with younger people, they may be more likely to have underlying health conditions which makes them more susceptible to contracting coronavirus, according to the data.

In the UK, people who are vulnerable, which includes people over 70, have to self-isolate for three months. Evidently, they can go for walks but can’t see family and friends. The idea is that this group is shielded from human contact. For those over 70, all non-essential operations are also cancelled.

Much has been written about the fact that people were first told that everyone over 70 must go into self-isolation. (This may happen from this Sunday, according to reports) If this were to happen, would this just alienate older people from the rest of society? In an article in The Daily Mail (dated March 15) former Home Secretary, David Blunkett (72) argued that it was unfair to stigmatise the older generation. He wrote: “That is the danger now, if the Government pursues the suggestion made on Saturday by Health Secretary Matt Hancock – that soon all people aged over 70 in Britain should go into self-isolation for four months.”

He also wrote: “But to urge everyone over 70 to stay indoors regardless of their health, is to my mind a dangerous over-reaction – the wrong thing done for the right reasons.

All it would do is divide society on grounds of age – and that is as wrong as separating people because of their race or gender.”

The UK’s Esther Rantzen (79), who is in self isolation, writes that people stuck at home could suffer from loneliness. Has the government thought of that and what will it do about it?

“To be cut off from giving and receiving emotional warmth creates deep pangs of loneliness,” she wrote and added: “Loneliness can make us feel that merely prolonging life is futile, as our lives are not worth living.”

In Turin, Italy, anyone over 80 should not be treated for coronavirus and should be left to die under a new proposal, according to an article in The Telegraph (14 March).

“Coronavirus victims in Italy will be denied access to intensive care if they are aged 80 or more or are in poor health, should pressure on beds increase, a document prepared by a crisis management unit in Turin proposes”, the article stated.

Although the message is confused, it is clear that anyone in the UK who is vulnerable to coronavirus, which includes the over 70s, must self-isolate. Staying indoors for a few months is not for the faint-hearted. As a friend pointed out, what happens about the dentist’s appointment, the hair appointment or even the nail appointment?

Self-isolation also raises the ethical question of who lives and who dies. These are issues the government must address.

Photo: by Carole Railton (copyright). "Younger people might carry the coronavirus but older people die of it"

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