Opinion

Lockdown: The elderly aren’t expendable, so why do we talk about Covid as if they are?

Yes, the new lockdown restrictions are annoying, but we shouldn’t expect our grandparents to lock themselves away so we can have an extra pint.

The coronavirus pandemic and the government’s ever-changing lockdown guidelines have left many feeling anxious and frustrated.

This, of course, is understandable. What isn’t, though, is the swelling tidal wave of people lashing out at the elderly and the vulnerable on social media.

“All high-risk people should stay indoors while the rest of us carry on with our lives,” reads one such comment from an irritated Facebook user.

“This is a waste of time,” rages another. “The virus is only a problem if you’re old anyway.”

“Just stay the fuck indoors if you’re old or vulnerable,” reads one more. “It’s not rocket science, is it?”

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Over on Gogglebox, meanwhile, Louis Michael has publicly suggested that the “small group” most at risk of dying should self-isolate at home.

His sister, Alex, agreed wholeheartedly: “To make everyone else put their lives on hold? It’s ridiculous.”

Boris Johnson, in his televised broadcast on Tuesday 22 September, felt compelled to address the growing call for the elderly and vulnerable to cloister themselves away.

“I must tell you that this is just not realistic, because if you let the virus rip through the rest of the population it would inevitably find its way through to the elderly as well, and in much greater numbers,” he said.

He isn’t wrong, of course: indeed, a detailed analysis of all the ways a targeted lockdown such as this would fail has been published by The Washington Post.

But it’s not just an “unrealistic” suggestion, is it? It’s a cruel and inhumane one, too.

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For months, now, the messaging around Covid-19 has lumped “the elderly and the vulnerable” into one faceless mass.

It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, that so many on social media have forgotten that they’re talking about real people when they call for them to be locked away. When they casually remark that the virus is far more dangerous to some than others. When they suggest that the UK government should fall back upon their controversial “herd immunity” tactics.

What they’re really doing, though, is suggesting that our parents, our grandparents, our elderly neighbours should remain shuttered up inside their homes for… well, forever. Or until a vaccine is found, at least.

It feels as if they’re suggesting, too, that all those who have survived cancer, organ transplants, autoimmune diseases, and more should be – for want of a better word – sacrificed for the greater good.

Because that’s what herd immunity actually means, doesn’t it? It means allowing the virus to run free, or at least partially free, so that enough people get it, overcome it, and become immune. 

Sure, it would eventually (hopefully) mean that Covid stops spreading through the population. But just think how many lives would be lost in the process. Just look at the UK’s coronavirus death tally from earlier on in the year. That stark number is exactly why the government halted herd immunity plans the first time around.

Coronavirus lockdown: Visiting quarantined mother, communicating through a glass window - stock photo
Not everyone has the privilege of being young, healthy and without risk.

Not everyone has the privilege of being young, healthy and without risk. That doesn’t mean, though, that these people’s lives are worth any less.

And, yes, it may feel like a sacrifice to be home from the pub by 10pm, to adhere to the “rule of six”, to work from home (if you can), to wear a mask, and to avoid crowded areas.

Surely, though, this is a far more palatable sacrifice than asking my nan, a 70+ cancer survivor, to board up her doors and windows and spend a dark and cold winter alone? Or asking your friend with Type 1 Diabetes to shut themselves away from the world until a vaccine becomes available? Or asking someone with cerebral palsy to move out of the home they share with their family and into an isolated bunker, so that everyone else can continue on as normal?

Or how about asking anyone, anyone at all, to put their lives on the line, solely so that you can continue to enjoy yourself as you always have done? So that you can “get back to normal”.

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Yes, it sucks. Yes, it’s been the worst fucking year of our lives. And no, I’m not suggesting that the government’s new guidelines are the correct ones, by any means.

All I am saying is this: the “elderly and the vulnerable” are real human beings, with hopes and fears and loved ones. They are our friends, relatives, colleagues, and neighbours. And they are every bit as deserving of our empathy as anyone else right now. Probably more so, even.

So please, try to remember that when you next suggest locking them all away so you can enjoy an 11pm pint at your local.

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