Is isolation measure imposed on persons older than 63 discriminatory or not?

Given the COVID-19 pandemic, the authorities banned the persons older than 63 from leaving home and staying in public places without a pressing need. The opinions about this measure are divided in society. Some say the persons from a risk group are protected this way. Others consider this measure is a limitation for those who are older than 63. Answers to the question “Is the isolation measure imposed on persons older than 63 discriminatory or not?” were provided by the participants in a public debate staged by HelpAge International Moldova.

According to Cristina Railean, policies and advocacy coordinator at HelpAge International Moldova, the last data show that three were 574,900 persons older than 60 in the Republic of Moldova at the start of 2020. This is 21.8% of the total population with ordinary residence. Of all the elderly persons, about 60% are women. Each third older person is aged between 60 and 64 and each tenth older person is older than 80. Demographic forecasts show that the persons older than 60 will represent about 33% of Moldova’s population towards 2050.

“Our position and messages we transmitted showed that the older persons, as a section of the population, should not be perceived as a vulnerable group. The elder people have a significant weight first of all because they continue the economic activity at an advanced age and also take part in non-economic activities, such as looking after family members, involvement in cultural and social activities, and play an important, active role in the social life and development of communities,” stated Cristina Railean.

Ion Șalaru, vice director of the National Public Health Agency, said that to be able to make a difference between an alleged discrimination and protection measures, the current situation should be realized, namely that this is the first pandemic faced by the Republic of Moldova and today we have 64,424 infections with the novel coronavirus and 1,514 deaths from COVID-19. “Most of the cases are among persons of the 50-59 age bracket - about 20.6% of all the cases. The deaths in this age bracket represent almost 16%. In the next age bracket, 60-69, we actually have an upsurge in mortality. By the number of infections, the difference is not very big, by 1 percentage point less, which is 19.5% of all the cases of COVID-19. But we have 580 deaths in this age bracket or over 38% of all the deaths from COVID-19,” stated Ion Șalaru.

According to him, these figures justify the actions and recommendations applying to persons of this age group. The World Health Organization recommends specific or more pronounced preventive measures for persons older than 60 as the probability of these developing more severe forms of COVID-19 is much greater. “Therefore, the health system adopted a special approach to persons older than 60. They are not only more vulnerable and the death rate for this age category is higher. Almost each person of this age bracket needs to be hospitalized. The hospitalization costs are rather high, as you know,” explained Ion Șalaru.

Tatiana Zatyk, head of the Primary Emergency and Community Medical Assistance Division of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Social Protection, said the situation imposes particular measures designed to protect the persons during the pandemic. The older persons seem to be more vulnerable to the infection and this is confirmed by the WHO and the national clinical treatment protocols. These persons are more susceptible to this infection and are more seriously affected as they suffer from more diseases simultaneously, such as cardiovascular and respiratory system diseases, cancer, diabetes mellitus, etc.

“The relevant regulations are designed to protect the older persons from particular situations that can have rather serious consequences,” explained Tatiana Zatyk. According to her, the global and national figures show that namely after 60, more persons develop serious forms and die. The senior interest is to ensure older persons’ basic rights to health, physical and mental integrity.

Galina Bujor, senior consultant at the Ministry of Health’s Division of Social Assistance Policies for Families with Low Incomes, Ellery People and Veterans, noted that the social protection system in this period has taken all the measures to realize the rights of older persons, such as the rights to social protection, to social assistance measures so that the elderly lead a healthy lifestyle.

“Measures were taken in time and the specialists working in the community, in concert with the local public authorities, ensure the provision of social services and their protection. I don’t think this is discrimination. This is care for persons so that we have healthy persons who are fully independent at home,” said Galina Bujor.

Carolina Cazaciuc, deputy head of the Applications Management Division of the Ombudsman’s Office, said that the data of the National Public Health Agency show that a person at the age of 40 can be more vulnerable to COVID-19 than the persons aged 63 given the health problems they have. The persons older than 63 are different and a person at the age of 63 can be more active than at person aged 40. “It should be noted that the interference of the state should be proportional and, surely, positive. The ombudsman is not against positive measures for the protection of persons, including depending on old age,” stated Carolina Cazaciuc.

According to her, the ombudsman pronounced immediately after the state of emergency was declared. The problem resides not only in age, but also in the ambiguity of the requirements stipulated in the decisions taken by the Commission for Exceptional Situations. The ombudsman made multiple approaches, seeking the clarification of requirements. An example is the notion “pressing”. This can be interpreted differently by the authorities, the people and ascertaining agents. A broader explanation is needed in this case. It is much easier for the authorities to impose a restriction than to strengthen the measures so as to ensure a more active support for the elderly people, to satisfy their urgent needs, etc.

The public debate was held in the framework of the project “Integration of active aging into public policies in the Republic of Moldova” that is implemented by HelpAge International and the Platform for Active Aging, with support from East Europe Foundation, in partnership with the Partnership for Development Center, with the resources provided by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and Sweden.

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