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Don’t impose extended lockdown on elderly, say BMA and RCGP

The BMA and RCGP have warned the Government against imposing an extended lockdown on older people when the UK starts to ease measures.

Both argued that age alone was not a strong enough factor to determine who should essentially be in quarantine and warned that any such decision could come with unintended health consequences.

The comments come as the Government is expected to unveil plans for how the UK could come out of the Covid-19 lockdown later this week.

It comes as early on, people over 70 were urged to take social distancing measures particularly seriously as they are deemed ‘clinically vulnerable’ to the coronavirus. 

BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul 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. Any moves to do this could only be justified if it were to protect individuals themselves, their families and the wider public.

‘This applies equally to individuals whether to an arbitrary age of 60 or 70 or to younger people with underlying health conditions. A blanket-ban on any section of the population being prohibited from lockdown easing would be unacceptable.’

He argued that ‘while any strategy to ease the lockdown must ensure the UK does not see a second wave of Covid-19 infection, it must also balance this with the rights and needs of individuals across the UK’.

In a similar vein, RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall stated: ‘It is not our view that age alone is a sophisticated criteria on which to base decisions as to who should self-isolate and to what extent during the next stage of lockdown.

‘People of all ages have a wide range of capabilities and are subject to various risk factors, of which their age is one, that might affect their health and how they respond to Covid-19.

‘Asking any individual to undertake strict isolation measures is already a significant ask that will undoubtedly have some impact on their physical and mental health.’

He said this comes as GPs are finding that many patients who are currently “shielding” are ‘expressing concern about their ability to continue extreme isolation for a long period, and this needs to be taken into account as plans for how the lockdown will continue are formulated’.

‘When we do hear what the next set of measures will be, it will be the role of GPs to present this information and the evidence behind it to individual patients, setting out the level of risk and implications for themselves and others, and to support patients to decide for themselves what to do. We can strongly advocate that our patients follow official guidance, but we can’t mandate action,’ Professor Marshall said.

Their comments come as a paper authored by primary care professor Azeem Majeed last month argued that people over 60 should also be advised to take extra caution against Covid-19.

At present, 28,734 people across all UK settings are confirmed to have died with Covid-19.