Boris Johnson, flanked by experts – a hitherto despised class – was lauded for his new statesmanship when he announced that families were going to lose loved ones. Excuse me! Hello! That could be me you are talking about: I am over 70, with chronic asthma. As ever, certainly since the beginning of the coronavirus emergency, people like me have been regarded as a special, disposable category. The message is: “Don’t worry, everyone, this disease doesn’t do much harm to real people, just the sick oldies.”
Even in normal times, those of us in the “seniors” bracket tend to be patronised. I barely notice now when a young man is addressed as “Sir”, while I am “dear” or “lovvie”. But this time, to be completely ignored, regarded as a silent burden by our suddenly serious-faced leader, is more than irritating. Do you mean, “Sorry, old dears, you are going to die, but as you barely exist anyway, we’ll solemnly inform those most likely to survive that the game could be up for their elders.”?
I am more than a little suspicious about this “scientific” pushing of the peak of the epidemic into the future. The fact is, after 10 years of stripping back, cutting to the bone and – the last straw – making immigrant workers feel unwelcome, the Tories have left us with a criminally underfunded, understaffed, under-resourced health service. The NHS can barely cope with the day-to-day; of course it is nowhere near ready for a once in a generation emergency. The Tories were so busy mending the roof while the sun shone, they seem not to have noticed that a gaping hole has appeared in the floor.
What to do? Well, start by putting off the most evil of moments, providing a little time to send non-acute patients home from hospital to free up a few beds. (Unfortunately, there being no proper care system for the elderly, some simply cannot be shifted, having nowhere else to go.) Then, don’t close down too much of society, tell people to “self-isolate” if they have minimal symptoms rather than get tested – there are nothing like enough kits anyway. That means that thousands of people are going about in the community, some of them sick, almost as if things were normal – except, God help us, for stripping supermarket shelves of spaghetti and loo rolls and trebling the price of hand sanitisers.
In these circumstances, we oldies are more than ever likely to get Covid- 19, thus helping to establish “herd immunity”. According to the theory, when a critical mass of people get through the disease – either well or dead – the virus has fewer victims to latch on to as the survivors will now be immune. And the dead? Well, they were proving to be a bit of a problem anyway, weren’t they? How will the funding of the care system ever be solved? Oldies are such a drain on resources. And the general populace can breathe easily on the announcement that the latest victim was only another “elderly person with pre-existing health issues”.
Taking the long view, it is, of course, better for a society to lose its older rather than its younger, more productive members if there has to be a choice, but it is not pleasant to be written off as collateral damage by Boris Johnson and Co. when their actions have left us all so unprepared. Even if, belatedly, they change the “herd immunity” policy, more of those “loved ones” – us – are going to die than should be the case.
Edit: Stop press. Apparently, we oldies may be asked to self-isolate for however long it takes. Has this been thought through? What about all those who are cared for at home or are regularly dependent on others? Fine if you are well off, can use the internet, perhaps have a bit of garden, but for many these circumstances do not apply. Whatever the advice is, could we have it presented clearly and not in dribs and drabs, please. But however the Government acts now, it cannot make up for all those years of neglect. We are in for a very rough ride.