Health secretary Matt Hancock has dismissed the latest reports from the Sunday Times that there will continue to be a blanket ban on the elderly leaving their home due to coronavirus fears.
The Sunday Times reported the British Medical Association (BMA)’s call under the headline ‘Set free healthy over-seventies, say doctors’ after Dr Chaand Nagpaul, council chair, said a ‘blanket ban’ would be ‘unacceptable’.
He said: ‘Any proposal to impose stricter social distancing for those at higher risk – essentially quarantining – based solely on age would be both unethical and illegal’.
The report prompted a furious response from Hancock and fellow Tory MPs in response via Twitter.
He said: ‘Sad to see another factually wrong & misleading article on p1 of the Sunday Times.
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‘The clinically vulnerable, who are advised to stay in lockdown for 12 weeks, emphatically DO NOT include all over 70s.
‘I’ve asked for an urgent correction.’
He continued: ‘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 aged 70 or older regardless of medical conditions” is wrong and deeply misleading.’
That prompted some on social media to point to advice published on the government website on Friday which includes the words: ‘Clinically vulnerable people are those who are: aged 70 or older (regardless of medical conditions)….’
When contacted the Department of Health and Social Care said the over 70s ‘are not included in the most at risk group (extremely clinically vulnerable), who have been told to isolate for 12 weeks’.
NHS England’s national medical director Professor Stephen Powis said on Friday that officials will be studying whether stricter measures will or will not have to continue to apply to the elderly when the lockdown is eased.
He said: ‘The over-70s can be absolutely fit and healthy, it’s not the case that everybody over 70 has a chronic health condition or underlying disease.
‘As we look forward… I think it’s a perfectly reasonable question to say how would that work in age groups and age bands?
‘Although we do know that complications and unfortunately deaths are more common in the elderly even without complications, I think that’s for consideration and that’s work that we will need to do as we move forward.’
Any proposal to include the elderly in continuing restrictions regardless of their state of health is likely to trigger fierce resistance.
Former minister Baroness Ros Altmann, 64, said that using age-based criteria to lift restrictions would send a message that older people’s lives ‘don’t count in the same way as others’.
Speaking to Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday, Baroness Altmann said: ‘I think using an age-based criteria is fundamentally wrong and would potentially cost the lives of many people, and risk social unrest.’
The life peer said many elderly people have only accepted lockdown conditions ‘because everyone else has got to do it,’ and ‘lots of them’ have said they would ‘risk going to prison’ rather than continue isolating.
She added ‘nobody would dream’ of applying restrictions on the basis of skin colour, despite a higher death rate among BAME people.
Comedian Sir Michael Palin, 76, agreed in a separate interview that age restrictions would be ‘very difficult and very wrong and very unfair’.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Sir Michael said: ‘I think it’s a difficult call every time but you’ve got to be more selective here, because there are a great deal, a great number, of people in their 70s who are very active, very thoughtful, who’ve got lots of ideas, can contribute to our recovery.
‘And I think that to treat them all as people who have to be sort of kept out of sight is going to be very difficult and very wrong and very unfair on a lot of people who want to help.’
Charity Director at Age UK Caroline Abrahams also spoke out against ‘blanket policies based on age’.