Coronavirus: Over-70s ‘willing to risk prison’ to break self-isolation if it continues, Tory peer warns

‘It’s age discrimination, there’s no other way to look at it,’ says former pensions minister

Kate Ng
Sunday 03 May 2020 18:08
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A member of the public wears a face mask as she sits on a bench
A member of the public wears a face mask as she sits on a bench

A former pensions minister has warned that people over the age of 70 would “rebel” and “risk going to prison” if the government mandates they must continue self-isolating even after the lockdown has lifted.

Baroness Ros Altmann, a Tory peer, told Sophy Ridge on Sky News that if the over-70 age group were put “under house arrest while everybody else is free”, it could risk “social unrest”, and that “lots” of people have told her they would rather break the rules.

Under current government guidelines, anyone over 70 years old, regardless of medical conditions, falls into the category of clinically vulnerable people. This group has been strongly advised to “take particular care to minimise contact with others outside your household” as they are at higher risk of contracting coronavirus.

“It’s age discrimination, there’s no other way to look at it. A healthy 70-year-old is probably less risk to society than an unhealthy 40-year-old, in terms of vulnerability to this illness,” she said on Sunday morning.

“If the government wants to advise people and say, ‘Look, if you’re more at risk, don’t consider going out unless it’s vital,’ that’s different from formally mandating that people of a certain age must all be locked up as if they’re a homogenous group – which they’re not – and as if their lives don’t count in the same way as others.”

Her comments come as senior doctors issued a statement warning that any post-lockdown measures should not treat the over-70s differently from the rest of the population, first reported by The Sunday Times.

The British Medical Association (BMA) said in a statement: “Any proposal to impose stricter social distancing for those at higher risk – essentially quarantining – based solely on age would be both unethical and illegal.

“Any moves to do this could only be justified if it were to protect individuals whether to an arbitrary age of 60 or 70 or to younger people with underlying health conditions.

“A blanket ban on any section of the population being prohibited from lockdown easing would be discriminatory and unacceptable.”

Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said prolonging self-isolation for the over-70s would “impact their physical and mental health”.

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“GPs are finding that many patients who are currently ‘shielding’ are expressing concern about their ability to continue extreme isolation for a long period, and this needs to be taken into account as plans for how the lockdown will continue are formulated,” Mr Marshall said.

But health secretary Matt Hancock called The Sunday Times’ report “factually wrong and misleading”. On Twitter, he said: “The clinically vulnerable, who are advised to stay in lockdown for 12 weeks, emphatically DO NOT include all over-70s.”

Mr Hancock’s accusation appears to be at odds with government guidance, updated on 1 May, which classes people who are aged 70 or older, regardless of medical conditions, as clinically vulnerable.

“We have strongly advised all over-70s to follow social distancing measures. However, there is no ‘blanket ban’ and the suggestion that the clinically vulnerable ‘include people ages over 70 or older regardless of medical conditions’ is wrong and deeply misleading,” he said.

He also tweeted a link to another section of government guidance, which covers people who are “clinically extremely vulnerable”. This refers to people with severe underlying health conditions, many of whom have received letter instructing them to “shield” until the end of June.

The warnings come ahead of the prime minister’s exit strategy, which is due to be published on Thursday. It is expected to reveal a slow easing of the lockdown.

Some people have taken to Twitter to confirm they would rebel if the exit strategy included telling those over a certain age would have to self-isolate for longer compared with everybody else.

One person said: “Restricting my movements *solely* on my age and ignoring my health status, is discriminatory and illegal. I would risk arrest and gaol to make the point (& at least I’d get 3 square meals a day FOC).”

Another said: “Bit worried about talk that over-70s might not be allowed out when lockdown ends. Many older people feel the same – when it’s open, we’re going out! And if the rainbow police come to arrest me, it’ll be Dog Day Afternoon at my house!”

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