Cocooning is advisory, not mandatory, Government confirms

Elderly who go out will not be fined or imprisoned for their behaviour, Department of Health has advised

Health Service Executive chief executive Paul Reid. On March 28th, the HSE introduced cocooning measures

Health Service Executive chief executive Paul Reid. On March 28th, the HSE introduced cocooning measures


People at risk who have been advised to cocoon will not face criminal sanction if they venture out, the Department of Health has confirmed.

On March 28th, the Health Service Executive (HSE) introduced cocooning measures for those over 70 and patients under that age who are organ transplant recipients, cancer patients or have a serious respiratory condition such as cystic fibrosis, asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

The HSE has “strongly advised” those in the at-risk category stay at home and not leave in any circumstances. They should get others to deliver their shopping and arrange for medications to be left outside the door.

The measures have now being extended until May 5th at the earliest.

The Government has passed the Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020, which contains provisions to fine or imprison those who do not obey an order from a garda if that garda believes the person is making an unnecessary journey outside a 2km zone from their home.

There was no provision in the Act to sanction those the HSE believes ought to be cocooning and are not.

Nevertheless, many people believed it was illegal to go out if you were over 70, with charities who work with elderly people saying it had created confusion.

The Department of Health has responded that the position on cocooning is “advisory” and not mandatory and is there to protect vulnerable people.

A spokeswoman added, however, that those over the age of 70 are subject to the laws about non-essential travel as everybody else is during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking at Wednesday’s daily briefing on the crisis, the State’s chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said the “clear recommendation” for the over-70s was to continue cocooning.

“Our clear recommendation is for people over the age of 70 to remain at home for the reasons we’ve said, and to avoid leaving home except for those very essential reasons we have identified,” he said.

“I can understand how challenging that is, and how frustrating that is. Many people over the age of 70 are fit and healthy and probably had a pre-existing lifestyle of active exercise and active participation in society.

“The reality is we know the risk of this infection having a greater impact on an individual is greater by virtue of your age, almost independent of whether you have an underlying medical condition or not.

“So, somebody who is older has a greater risk of having a more complicated experience with this infection if they pick it up.”

Dr Holohan said the advice would remain in place until health authorities felt they had control over the virus.

“We think we can’t give advice to people that it is time for them and appropriate for them to come back out and to come to an end of the period of cocooning until we think we have sufficient control in the community generally of this disease,” he said.

“We don’t think we’re at that point yet. While we think we are making progress in that direction, we think we’re not there at this moment in time. We won’t want to continue an arrangement or recommendation like this given how challenging it is for people, and longer than is necessary.”

Age Action spokeswoman Celine Clarke said elderly people were finding it increasingly difficult to cope with the cocooning. Many of them were self-isolating before the advisory was issued.

“The prolonged nature of the cocooning is really taking its toll on people and they are saying that they are just going to go outside and do their shopping,” she said.

“We can see from people who contact us that their level of frustration is growing. Lots of people who are over 70 are fit and healthy, and they are finding it very difficult to maintain their physicality and their health.”

Alone chief executive Seán Moynihan said even fit elderly people are vulnerable to Covid-19.

“In our experience there is a percentage of elderly people who are taking the odd walk, but I think after the shock and the adjustment of it, I think a lot of elderly people understand that the health services and the community are trying to protect them.

“For us, it is too early to lift any of this because we don’t know when the peak will come.”

However, he also acknowledged the prolonged lockdown was becoming increasingly difficult for elderly people living on their own.

He added: “We recognise that the extension of the Covid-19 measures which have been put in place is vital and will no doubt save lives. It is in their own best interest.

“However, we also know that the next three weeks will be very difficult for older people and the support of our communities and families will be more important than ever throughout this time.”

* This article was amended on April 16th.