Luthfa Hood whose father, Jamshad Ali, recently passed away shows a picture of him at her home, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, Dorking, Britain April 9, 2020. (Photo: CGTN/Reuters)
Older people, like everyone else in the world, have the same rights to life and health amid the COVID-19 pandemic, said United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
As the death toll of the elderly from the virus continues to climb, the need to strengthen programs and policies affecting older persons both in times of crisis and afterward are highlighted.
Elderly people, more vulnerable
Studies suggest the severity of coronavirus rises with age. In Italy, the average age of those dying is 80, according to a study by the Italian National Institute of Health.
In China, where the pandemic started, people aged 70 and older accounted for just 12 percent of all infections but more than half of all deaths, according to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
In the United States, people aged 65 and older have thus far accounted for 31 percent of cases, 53 percent of intensive care hospitalizations and 80 percent of deaths, according to U.S. government data.
As of Saturday, at least 25,600 COVID-19 deaths had been reported in U.S. nursing homes and care facilities for older adults, while just about 10 percent of the country's infection cases had occurred in such units.
For both physical and social reasons, such as weaker immune systems, more likely to be in institutionalized settings, and bigger isolation or mobility challenges, the elderly need more to get through the global pandemic.
Debates on measures for the elderly against virus
Debates and discussions focusing on the elderly against the COVID-19 have never stopped from the beginning of the outbreak till the easement of the situation.
The UK government's herd immunity strategy, and policies of "shielding the vulnerable"and "household isolation," which says people aged over 70 will be told to stay in strict isolation at home or in care homes for four months to separate them from the wider population, triggered wide criticism saying that "weaker" members of society, such as the older generation, have to be sacrificed to help build immunity.
COVID-19 UK government 'herd immunity' shift after recent criticism
Sweden, where 90 percent of those who have died as of April 28 were over the age of 70, admitted it failed to adequately protect the elderly, with around half of the deaths occurring among nursing home residents.
"We failed to protect our elderly. That's really serious, and a failure for society as a whole. We have to learn from this, we're not done with this pandemic yet," Health and Social Affairs Minister Lena Hallengren told Swedish Television recently.
In Israel, 30,000 elderly people usually benefit from going to day centers and clubs run by the Labor and Social Welfare Ministry, but due to the Health Ministry's new guidelines, those had to be closed down, leaving many of them isolated.
While the pandemic may stalk the planet for a long time to come, more and more countries have launched plans for recovery, but challenges about the measures for the elderly still remain.
France is facing a growing debate about the situation for elderly citizens after reopening as some critics have said that the government was setting different rules for older people and other forms of discrimination.
President President Emmanuel Macron said that older people, who are considered more vulnerable to the deadly virus, would be asked to stay at home for a longer period of time.
Compared to many other countries, the situation about this group amid the pandemic in China seems more optimistic – with much fewer complaints and criticisms.
China issued a notice on the prevention and control of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak among the elderly on January 28, requiring elderly care institutions to be closed when necessary and suspend visits and the acceptance of new elderly residents.
China's Ministry of Civil Affairs required authorities across the country to pay daily visits to extremely needy elderly people who are quarantined at home, stressing better caring services amid the epidemic, including those who live alone and cannot take care of themselves, who are quarantined and have no family, and whose family members are also quarantined.
The measures include helping such elderly people apply for temporary subsidies and other types of social relief, organizing temporary caretakers and supporting elderly care institutions in prioritizing the applications of elderly people in need.
According to China's National Health Commission (NHC), as of April 17, a total of 50,008 patients had been diagnosed with COVID-19 in Wuhan, the city hardest hit by the outbreak in China, among which more than 2,500 were over 80 years old.
Around 70 percent had been cured and discharged from hospital, including seven people over 100 years old, including a 108-year-old, the commission said.
Supporting older people is everyone's business
The epidemic is a reflection of healthcare and government crisis management. Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, problems on nursing facilities, community services, social welfare for the elderly people and so on have been exposed, especially in an era of increasing number of aging people relative to the general population.
Dr. Michael Head, a senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton in England, stressed the lack of focus on the elderly in care homes. "Our elderly populations deserve better than to be ignored and forgotten."
About half of all COVID-19 deaths appear to be happening in care homes in some European countries, according to early figures gathered by UK-based academics, and data from varying official sources shows that in Italy, Spain, France, Ireland and Belgium between 42 percent and 57 percent of deaths from the virus have been happening in homes, according to a report by academics based at the London School of Economics (LSE).
There are tremendous opportunities in every crisis if we are willing to adapt and learn, acknowledge these gaps or weaknesses and take devised measures to overcome them.
"Supporting and protecting older people living alone in the community is everyone's business," said Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe. "I am reminding governments and authorities that all communities must be supported to deliver interventions to ensure older people have what they need. All older people should be treated with respect and dignity during these times. Remember, we leave no one behind."