The Irish Times view on cocooning: one-size-fits-all needs to be reviewed

Those who are comparatively less exposed to risk should be able to look forward to greater freedom

President Michael D Higgins said the term “cocooning” was infantilising of older people. Photograph: Frank Miller

President Michael D Higgins said the term “cocooning” was infantilising of older people. Photograph: Frank Miller

 

Most people can look at the Government’s plan for a phased easing of the Covid-19 restrictions and find cause for hope that many parts of their normal life will soon resume. The timetable is contingent on continued suppression of the virus, of course, but for parents, shop owners, sports fans, theatre-goers and so many others, the plan holds out the promise of some respite.

For one cohort of society, however, the plan is virtually silent. Under phase two, which begins next Monday, shops are to provide dedicated hours for over-70s and those same “cocooners” can have a small number of visitors to their home provided they wear gloves and face coverings and keep a distance of at least 2 metres. Apart from that, over-70s are not mentioned in the plan.

There were strong public health grounds for the recommendations – and they are recommendations, not laws – that older people should severely restrict their movements when Covid-19 was circulating widely. We know that the disease hits those over 70 and in mid-March the State was left with little option but to urge the most vulnerable to isolate themselves for their own good.

But just as the lockdown was a crude, indiscriminate measure, the “cocooning” – an infantilising expression, as President Michael D Higgins has noted – of the elderly was a one-size-fits all step that will have to be reviewed as the country slowly reopens. The over-70s are not equally vulnerable to Covid-19. International data suggest the death rate follows a steep age gradient within that group. We also know that chronic diseases play an important role. The current catch-all restriction does not allow for the vitality, energy and physical good health of so many over-70s. Nor does it reckon adequately with the negative impact of isolation on physical and mental health.

The Government must be guided by the best public health advice. But as our understanding of Covid-19 develops, the authorities should stratify risk within the over-70s and at least allow those who are comparatively less exposed to look forward to greater freedom in the coming months.

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