How COVID-19 discriminates against seniors

Traders protecting themselves from COVID-19

by Lucia Dore

While the COVID-19 pandemic continues in most parts of the world (the US, the UK, Europe, Brazil and India are among the countries that are worst hit), the economic fallout from the pandemic affects everyone. Although international trade continues at a slower pace than before, international travel has stopped almost entirely- well, it had done until travel within Europe started up again. US residents have few places to travel to. In Australia and New Zealand only residents of their countries are allowed to return.

The impact of the pandemic has varied according to geographies and age groups. While those in the countries mentioned above have been badly affected, those who are over 70 appear to be particularly hard hit. This age group has suffered the most from the pandemic, many in this age group dying. I read the other day that young people in the US going into nursing homes, many of whom are not wearing masks, are giving the virus to those who are living in the homes.

In the Middle East, Iran is the hardest hit. President Hassan Rouhani has said that 25 million Iranians have been infected with the coronavirus and that another 35 million are at risk of acquiring it. Official figures put the number at 273,788 and 14,188 deaths.

As at 16 July, the UAE had 56,711 of confirmed cases and 338 deaths; Saudi Arabia had 250,00 confirmed cases and 2486 deaths. Israel had 50,289 confirmed cases and 409 deaths.

According to The Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine and the University of Oxford, with figures updated on 9 June, the death rate in the UK is 1.3% for 50 to 59-year-old, 3.6% for 60 to 69-year-olds, rising to 8% for 70 to 79 year olds and 14.8% for the over 80s. These figures compare with a death rate of only 0.32% for those 20 to 49 years.

For the "all age" group and especially for the working age group, "15-64", England has had the highest rates of excess mortality, compared to other countries, according to figures from the website Statistics. Spain had the highest cumulative excess mortality (P-score) over the pandemic weeks for the "over 85" age group. The US, however, has the highest absolute numbers, with a daily rate of nearly 80,000. It ranks seventh in the world by death by mortality rates.

It's difficult though to compare figures and mortality rates between countries because they use different methodologies and there is a lag between confirmed cases and confirmed deaths. The extent of testing also affects numbers.

What we do know is that across societies older people, those who are over 60 in particular, are dying more quickly than other age groups. But does it matter to society if people in this age group die? After all, they are a burden on society and the focus on policy is on the younger age group who need to be gainfully employed.

That seems to be the thinking of many policy makers anyway- the UK, Sweden, and the US among them. In the UAE, considerable effort is being put in to ensure that it becomes a knowledge economy. The space mission to Mars, with the Hope spacecraft is one example.

Taking a heavy toll on older people is the removal of their benefits, such as in the UK, which has a strong benefit system. In the UK, the BBC has announced it will go ahead with plans to end free TV licences for over-75s from 1 August. This is of great concern for the charity Age UK who writes: "We are bitterly disappointed by this decision and are urging the Government to sit down with the BBC urgently to keep TV licences free for over-75s."

There has been talk that the free bus pass scheme for the disabled and those who are 65 and older people in England will continue will end.

There is also talk within the government that the state pension, now standing at $175.20, may have to be cut to help ease the burden of debt that is crippling the UK economy as so much government money was pumped into the economy to stave off recession as a result of COVID-19.

Some 11,000 people were forecast to lose payments worth £70 per week from April, as the Government cut extra payments for "adult dependants".

If further cuts are made to pensioners' income, this will happen at the same time as prices for basic goods at the supermarket are likely to rise as a consequence of Brexit. Older people will be affected disproportionately than most. But does it matter?

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Wednesday, 17 August 2022